Investing in our schools

Major study launched on impact of poor language skills on pupils’ progress

The impact of poor language skills on pupils’ academic progress will be studied in Surrey in the first project of its kind in the country.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, aim to find out why language difficulties develop and how they affect academic achievement and success in social settings*.

The four-year study, which was launched in Westminster with House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, is being carried out with Surrey County Council.

Academics will work with the county council’s schools to screen the language skills of all of the children who started this academic year. A group of 500 children will then be assessed in detail over three years.

John Bercow with Surrey's Deputy Leader Peter Martin and Royal Holloway's Dr Courtenay Norbury

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the research is being led by Dr Courtenay Norbury, Head of the Literacy, Language and Communication Laboratory at Royal Holloway.

She said: “It is now even more critical to identify those children at school entry who will have persistent language learning needs, what those needs are and how they impact on a child’s academic and social development.

“This will enable authorities to target limited resources more efficiently, while at the same time providing crucial data to argue for more service provision.

“Language problems can hinder children’s ability to read and write and there are strong links between poor language skills and a variety of problems later in life, including behavioural issues.”

Peter Martin, Surrey County Council’s Deputy Leader said:  “Our priority is excellence in education and we are determined to ensure our schools unlocks every child’s full potential and this vital research will help us do that.

“Although Surrey has some of the best-performing state schools in the country there is always more we can do, whether that’s working with schools directly or working as a team with other organisations.”


* The study, Surrey Communication and Language in Education Study (SCALES), is the first study of language risk in the UK. It aims to identify aspects of language impairment that are most likely to predict multiple behavioural and social difficulties. A longer-term aim is to establish early identification procedures and potential treatment for children at greatest risk of multiple language and learning difficulties.

Children with language impairment represent the largest group of children with special educational needs. These children find it very difficult to remember what people say to them and can take a long time to get their messages across.


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