A block to social mobility

The latest report from the Social Mobility Commission warns that inequality in the UK remains entrenched from birth to work. Children who are born to poor parents are likely to end up poor too.

This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, because disadvantaged children will continue to miss out on the preschool preparation which is essential for learning to read and write English with relative ease, and which has to begin almost from the moment a child is born. Being played with, talked to and read to from early infancy onwards makes an enormous difference to children’s grasp of language and grammar. This in turn makes a big difference to how easily children learn to read write words like ‘only, once, other’ or ‘hear, heard, heart’.  

Because poorer parents tend to be less well educated and less literate, and often work long unsocial as well, most of their children start school linguistically a long way behind. They also tend not get much help with reading homework after starting school. This means that while English spelling is allowed to continue making literacy acquisition and access to independent learning exceptionally dependent on a child’s home environment, inequality in the UK, as in all English-speaking countries, will remain unchanged.

The children of poor parents in English-speaking countries are educationally disadvantaged, because English spelling makes learning to read and write English exceptionally difficult. Spellings, with changeable sounds like ‘trout, trouble, troupe’ and irregular spellings like ‘blue, shoe, flew, through, too’, make becoming literate much harder than with more regular systems.

This means that children’s progress at school, and thereby in life too, is far more affected by what happens to them before school and in the early years at school than it is in most other countries. It is much easier to learn to read and write English if u have been regularly read to almost from the moment u were born. Before long, children start to link some of the words they hear with those they see on a page. It is a relaxed and informal way of starting to learn to read, several years before starting formal lessons at school.

English literacy acquisition is  also assisted by having a good-sized vocabulary and basic grasp of English grammar before u start learning to read and write. Being regularly spoken to, instead of being plonked in front of the telly or ignored in your pushchair while mum is ogling her phone, makes a huge difference. Being introduced to books and read to every day as soon as u can sit up makes an even bigger difference. Getting regular help with reading homework when u first start school is unvaluable too.

For children who start school without adequate priming for learning to read from early infancy and get little help with it at home thereafter, it is much harder to become literate. It delays their access to other learning. They start school a long way behind most of their classmates and are unlikely to ever catch up, unless they are exceptionally bright. Poor children with additional learning difficulties are especially disadvantaged. They have little hope of ever becoming proficient  readers and getting much benefit from their many years in compulsory schooling.


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