Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland study suggests many poorer children starting school struggle with language

Pupils at Black Mountain Primary School
Image caption Parents can come into Black Mountain Primary School during the day to read with their children

Many children from poorer backgrounds already struggle with language when they start primary school, a new study suggests.

About 65% of children aged five years from disadvantaged backgrounds had below average results in vocabulary tests, compared with 38% of more affluent children, the 'Ready to Read' Northern Ireland report said.

The report, from the Read On Get On coalition, involved 1,955 children from 63 council wards across Northern Ireland.

It calls for more investment in the early years workforce and extra support for parents.

Save the Children - which is part of the coalition alongside organisations like Libraries NI, Parenting NI and Early Years - published the research.

Image caption Black Mountain Primary School principal Jill Black said that parents' involvement had made a huge difference in reading skills

The head of the charity in Northern Ireland, Fergus Cooper, said that getting more parents involved in their child's education was crucial to developing literacy skills.

"Every parent wants their child to succeed but many parents don't know what the key things they need to do to reinforce that learning are," he said.

"Early language development is a key skill that leads on to good reading, so we need to invest and engage much earlier."

Black Mountain Primary School in west Belfast, which has almost 150 pupils, has been working with the charity for a number of years.

Parents can come into the school during the school day to read with their children.

Image caption Fergus Cooper said early language development was a key skill that leads on to good reading

Stacey Brittan's son AJ goes to Black Mountain Primary School, and she says the school's approach has helped them both.

"I never read - I would have watched a film rather than read a book," she said.

"So we started at night reading books, and now AJ can't wait to buy a new book and read a new book, so his reading has really improved.

"He gets more enjoyment out of it because it's quality time with mummy."

Image caption Stacey Brittan says Black Mountain Primary School's approach has helped both her and her son

Elaine Crossman also comes into the school to read with her son Riley.

"It's brilliant because with working sometimes I don't get the chance to do it at home," she said.

"So it's great on the days that you can get to spend that one on one with your child and read to them, and also see how well Riley has come on with reading."

The school's principal Jill Black said that parents' involvement had made a huge difference in reading skills.

"We started encouraging parents to come into school about three years ago, and the enthusiasm for reading has particularly improved, particularly in Primary One and Primary Two," she said.


Ms Black said the initiative has also strengthened the relationships between teachers and parents, and improved pupils' reading test results.

"That parents are able to enjoy reading has a knock-on effect for their children," she added.

"We see a huge increase in their achievement and attainment in reading."

The 'Ready to Read' report features new analysis by University College London of a Northern Ireland sample from the Millennium Cohort Study, a project following the lives of thousands of UK children.

The UK-wide Read On Get On organisation has set the goal of getting every child reading well by the age of 11 by 2025.

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