On-Words – Literacy is key to success from Early Years

South West Early Years Communication and Literacy Conference features leading communication and literacy experts from the Education Endowment Foundation, the Research Schools Network, and the South West 

Early Years’ headteachers, nursery managers and literacy leads across the South West hear latest research and share what works in teaching communication and literacy

Reading, writing and oral skills are key to success in every subject, and for a fulfilling career and life, conference hears

Instilling a love of reading and teaching young people to express themselves fluently are the most important skills school can pass on to the next generation, experts at a literacy conference in Somerset heard.

Early years professionals from the South West’s primary schools and nurseries heard about the best approaches to developing these skills based on the latest research during the South West Early Years Communication and Literacy Conference, at the Dunster Tithe Barn on April 29.

They also shared their own evidence of what’s worked so others can learn from their experience and help close the literacy gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. A Talking Tots pilot in West Somerset has helped parents with two-year-olds at risk of delayed language play together and develop their communication and social skills. Early Talk Boost uses stories and a puppet to boost three to four-year-olds language skills so they can catch up with other children their age in their early language development. Or storytelling as a way of developing self-expression and a love of language.

Anne Harvey, Associate Research Schools Lead, said: “One of the most important things a school can do for all its young people is teach them to read, write and speak fluently.

“Literacy unlocks academic success in every subject, builds fulfilling careers and rewarding lives.

“But we need to provide the right intervention early so every child has the same opportunities to succeed in life – and that’s what we’re exploring.”

Teachers were signposted to the wide range of Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) reports and toolkits for effective classroom activities that research has shown to be effective.

The West Somerset Research School at the Blue School in Wells is also helping share research and evidence that has the biggest impact in the classroom and nursery so young people thrive.

Early Years is a priority focus for West Somerset Opportunity Area (OA), a Department for Education programme to help young people overcome obstacles to social mobility through education. The OA funded places for West Somerset’s early years practitioners as part of its programme to make sure every pupil has the skills and support they need to get on in life.

Megan Dixon, from the EEF, said: “It’s the sustained ongoing conversations amongst teachers and leaders that have impact on changing practice in the classroom and it starts in the Early Years.

“The evidence suggests that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds start school 4.3 months behind their peers and around 50% in some areas may start school with speech, language and communication difficulties.

“This gap grows unless early intervention gives them these young people the targeted support they need to catch up.”

Carys Barnett, headteacher at Exford Church of England First School, said: “Communication is a fundamental part of education and it is paramount that we get the foundations of this right.

“These kinds of functions are essential so everyone has the same message and a chance to listen to key note speakers as well as having opportunities for professional dialogues with colleagues from pre-school, nursery and childminders so we can support, guide and share new ideas.”

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