Enhanced verbal skills are a marker of academic success, York researchers find

by Freya Lucas

March 30, 2020

A recent study conducted by the University of York has found that young children go on to achieve more academic success when their verbal skills are enhanced. The study looked at why children from wealthier and well-educated family backgrounds tend to do better at school, finding that verbal skills were a large part of their success. 

 

Children from families of higher socioeconomic status had better language abilities at nursery school age (between three and five years) and these verbal skills boost later academic performance throughout school.

 

Using data which had been gathered from nearly 700 British children, researchers explored the link between preschool ability at age four years, and educational outcomes throughout schooling, up to the age of 16. 

 

Differences in language skills between children explained around 50 per cent of the effect of family background on children’s achievement in the first year of school. This achievement gap widened over the course of their education, the study suggests.

 

Professor Sophie von Stumm, lead author of the study said the findings show that a child’s learning at home when they are under five is “really important to their chances of later academic success”.

 

Those children from more advantaged backgrounds are more likely to arrive at school being already familiar with the language patterns and linguistic codes that are used in formal educational settings and are expected by teachers.

 

“Not all children get the same start in life, but this study highlights the importance of helping parents of all backgrounds to engage with their children in activities which enhance verbal skills – such as reading bedtime stories and engaging the child in conversations,” she added. 

 

As well as improving verbal skills and boosting cognitive, social and emotional development, such activities boost parent-child bonding.

 

The research is the first major study to look at children’s abilities in their early years and the extent to which it explains their later educational achievement.

 

The researchers also looked at non-verbal ability at nursery school age and found that it had a smaller, but never-the-less significant role in explaining the link between background inequalities and academic success.

 

Children from high socioeconomic backgrounds were at an advantage when it came to their non-verbal skills – such as solving puzzles, drawing shapes and copying actions – before they started school.

 

These skills were found to account for around a third of the link between family background and later educational achievement.

 

To read the research in full, please see here

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