Dr Judy Clegg- Senior Lecturer in Human Communication Sciences, University of Sheffield


-Do you believe that social disadvantage has the ability to significantly influence the impact of other aspects of a child’s development other than just their education?

‘We know from research in this area that many children growing up in areas of significant social disadvantage or social deprivation are delayed or behind in their speech, language and communication abilities. Speech, language and communication abilities are fundamental to children’s learning in the pre-school years and their ‘school readiness’ when they start school. Children who are not able to speak clearly, to make associations between their speech sounds and the corresponding letters, to understand and  use the vocabulary of classrooms and schools and  to express themselves clearly are less likely to be able to engage in their learning compared to those children who have gained these skills. This then has implications for whether these children can ‘catch’ up or whether they fall behind in their learning and literacy development which can impact on their educational trajectories and outcomes over time.’

‘The association between children’s speech, language and communication development is complex and multi-factorial.  This means there are many inter-related reasons as to why some children growing up in areas of significant social disadvantage are delayed or impoverished in their speech, language and communication development.  It is important to recognise that there is no linear, causal relationship between the two. Possible reasons or mechanisms include reduced opportunities in the family home and outside to engage in activities that facilitate speech, language and communication development and factors that are more intrinsic to the developing child such as medical or health difficulties, or adverse family circumstances. Early years intervention services are essential here in identifying those children at risk and enabling these children and their families to participate in effective interventions to facilitate their speech, language and communication development so they can be ‘school ready’.’

-Furthermore, if there are any disadvantages above, are they ‘balanced out’ through the benefits of learning another language? Many people believe the myth that bilingualism can hinder a child’s learning – how would you combat this?

‘Children grow up in multi-lingual communities and are fortunate to learn more than one language. Many children learn two or more languages with ease and there are no robustly reported disadvantages to learning more than one language in the early years.  Some children may need more exposure to the languages they are learning at home or take more time to learn two or more languages simultaneously.  English is usually the language spoken in schools in the UK and so children usually have to learn English in order to be able to access their learning in the UK school system.  From my experiences in Sheffield, I am always very impressed by children and young people who come to Sheffield from other countries to start new lives not speaking English. After a short while, they learn English as a new language and are able to access and engage in their learning including reading and writing.  It must be very daunting to start a new school and not be able to understand the language spoken nor communicate with the other children and adults.’

‘Some children and young people do have significant difficulties with their speech, language and communication development. This may be related to health or medical difficulties such as a hearing impairment or as part of other developmental difficulties such as Autism Spectrum Disorders or other developmental and/or learning difficulties.  For some children, there is no obvious cause or explanation.  These children usually become known to speech and language therapy services and other health, social and educational services to identify and support their needs.  Many of these children will be growing up in multi-lingual communities and so these children and their families will need support around how best to meet their speech, language and communication needs.  Speech and language therapy services need to understand the social and cultural capital of different communities. For example, different perspectives of and practices around bringing up children and parenting and the role of parents and families in children’s development and learning. This understanding will enable effective support for all children and families across all communities.’


  1. Amber October 27, 2016 at 5:47 am

    Stands back from the keyboard in ameenmzat! Thanks!

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