Closing the Word Gap with Jean Gross CBE

The Knowledge Makes Change seminar series aims to inspire and be informative on ‘what works’ for young children and their families to ensure the best possible outcomes. It forms part of NCB’s work in Jersey and is delivered in partnership with the Jersey Child Care Trust. They are free events open to everyone engaged with young children and their families in Jersey.

The 9th evening in the series featured Jean Gross discussing how we can work in partnership with parents to support young children’s speech, language and communication.

What are speech, language and communication skills?

Children’s speech, language and communication development can be divided into the following skills or aspects of development:

  • Receptive language: understanding the meaning of words, sentences and conversations;
  • Expressive language: conveying meaning using words and sentences;
  • Pragmatic language: learning how to use language socially, for example learning to take turns in conversation;
  • Speech production: the ability to say speech sounds and words correctly so that they can be understood by others.

Children need to develop across all four aspects to reach their fullest potential in life and learning. Speech, language and communication skills are closely linked to educational attainment and future employment prospects; the ability to play a full role in society; and form lasting friendships and relationships.

What makes a difference?

Research evidence has shown that what parents and other adults do has a powerful impact on children’s speech, communication and language development. 

Research has also shown the key significance of the early home learning environment, especially reading and sharing books with children, in developing children’s speech, language and communication skills.  Researchers carrying out the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) followed over 9,000 children in the pre-school period and found that the number of books available to a child, the frequency of visits to the library and parents teaching a range of activities were all important predictors of the child’s expressive vocabulary at age two (Roulstone et al, 2011).   Similarly, a strong evidence base shows that young children who read regularly with an adult learn language faster, enter school with a larger vocabulary and become more successful readers in school (LuCiD evidence briefing).  Finally, the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education project (EPPSE) followed over 3,000 children from pre-school age to the end of their secondary education.  Researchers found that parents frequently reading and sharing books with children was one of seven key early home learning activities that were closely linked with children’s overall attainment on entry to school, at age seven, age eleven and beyond (Sylva et al, 2008).

Speech, language and Communication in Jersey

The Early Childhood Development Programme in Jersey has supported practitioners across the island to participate in REAL (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy) training and to carry out REAL projects with children in their settings. 

Jade Orkiszewski, Nursery Class Teacher at Rouge Bouillon School has worked in partnership with Cathy Sandlant, a Speech and Language Therapist to deliver a language enrichment project in their nursery.  They opened the seminar by showcasing their project and sharing information about the strategies they used and the successes they have had. 

Jean Gross, CBE

Jean Gross CBE is a popular speaker on children’s issues and the author of a number of best-selling books including ‘Time to Talk’. She was formerly the English government’s Communication Champion for children, responsible for promoting the importance of good language skills. Recently she chaired the ‘Bercow: Ten Years On’ independent review of services for children with speech, language and communication needs. She has frequently acted in an advisory capacity to government on early years issues and currently sits on expert group looking at government plans to improve the communication and language skills of under-fives.

Useful Resources

Watch Jean’s presentation:

Briefing on Speech, Language and Communication.

Slides from the evening are also available online.