Language and Communication in the revised Early Learning Goals


by Shelley Parkin – Speech and Language Therapist

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Statutory Framework was revised in June this year by the Department for Education (DfE), with redrafted Early Learning Goals.  

The revised versions will be piloted by 25 schools in 2018/2019, and then used as a basis for consultation from the education sector. The new Early Learning Goals (ELGs) have been met with a mixed response so far.  

The intention of the DfE is to reduce the amount of workload pressure on teachers to provide evidence and data to support their observations. The number of goals in some sub-sections has been reduced, and some sub-sections have been removed altogether from some learning areas. ‘Understanding’ and ‘Attention’ have been removed from the Language and Communication section, ‘Health and Self-Care’ has been removed from Physical Development, and ‘Technology’ has been removed from Understanding the World.  

This has caused concern amongst some Early Years professionals, who have questioned the changes made, or even whether the ELGs should have been changed at all. Some professionals have also questioned the number of assessments to which young children are exposed, and whether we are placing too high expectations on four and five-year olds who all develop and learn at different rates. 

The Language and Communication section revisions come with intention to address the ‘Word Gap’ recently highlighted by research carried out by Oxford University Press. This is apparent with the addition of multiple references to ‘using new vocabulary’ in the revised ELGs. The ‘Word Gap’ refers to children whose vocabulary is significantly behind that of their peers and affects their learning in school.  

 

How do the revised Language and Communication ELGs differ from the current ones? 

 Current Language and Communication ELGs: 

 Revised Language and Communication ELGs to be piloted in 25 schools 2018/2019: 

 

 ELG Listening and attention:  

• Children listen attentively in a range of situations.  

• They listen to stories, accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions.  

• They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.  

 

 ELG Understanding:  

• Children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions.  

• They answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences and in response to stories or events.  

 

 ELG Speaking:  

• Children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs.  

• They use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future.  

• They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events. 

 

 

 

 ELG Listening 

 Children at the expected level of development will: 

  • listen carefully and respond appropriately when being read to and during whole-class and small group discussions 

  • make comments about what they have heard and ask questions to clarify their understanding 

  • hold conversation when engaged in back-and-forth exchanges with their teacher and peers. 

 

 ELG Speaking 

 Children at the expected level of development will: 

  • participate in small group, class and one-to-one discussions, offering their own ideas, using new vocabulary 

  • offer explanations for why things might happen, making use of new vocabulary from stories, non-fiction, rhymes and poems when appropriate 

  • express their ideas using full sentences, with modelling and support from their teacher. 

 

 

 

The first clear difference is the changing of sub-sections - ‘Attention’ no longer sits within the Language and Communication section, but now has appeared within Personal, Social and Emotional Development, under ‘Self-Regulation’. Gone altogether is the sub-section ‘Understanding’ - all points are now listed under ‘Listening’ and ‘Speaking’. In fact, the sole goal relating to attention - ‘pay attention to their teacher’ - is sandwiched together with ‘follow multi-step instructions’. Although attention and understanding are linked, they perhaps warrant their own listing to help inform areas of difficulty more precisely. 

Language development models illustrate the importance of attention and listening in developing language and communication skills. Young babies are drawn to the language and communication of their caregivers, tuning into their speech and watching their faces. This attention initially helps them to recognise the labels given to familiar objects in their environment and continues to play a crucial role in building on those language skills as children grow. Attention develops in stages as children get older, with most children able to attend and listen well in the classroom by age 5-6 years. Attention and listening are foundation skills needed to develop robust language and communication skills. Clearly, attention is an important developmental area underpinning language, which is why it is surprising it has now been considerably shortened and placed within a different section. 

Also surprising is the removal of the section ‘Understanding’. This area is extremely important as understanding of language directly impacts children’s access to the curriculum. Our understanding develops before we can talk and helps us to understand the world and communicate effectively with others. In the current ELGs, this is captured in the Language and Communication section - however in the revised ELGs, following multi-step instructions appears under ‘Self-Regulation’. The only other mention is under ‘Listening’, in relation to asking questions to clarify understanding. This relies on spoken language skills, social confidence and social communication skills. There is no clear mention of ‘understanding language’ as a stand-alone entry when surely it underpins every area of the curriculum? 

What is clear when reading the ELGs, is how dependent most of the other areas of learning are on language and communication skills. Accessing teaching, developing understanding and explaining what they know is going to vary widely depending on the individual child’s language ability. Literacy, a key section, is underpinned by children’s oral language skills. The development of strong oral language skills is of vital importance in building a solid foundation for literacy. Considering this, the Language and Communication section in the revised ELGs feels a little sparse. 

Having raised some concerns, it is important to note the positives too. The intention to address the ‘Word Gap’ is an admirable one. Using ‘new vocabulary’ features four times across the revised ELGs - two in Language and Communication, and a further two in Literacy. By turning the spotlight on vocabulary, it may lead to a greater number of spontaneous discussions about words and language, which would be a positive outcome. There is also an increased focus on small group discussions, which is a good way to promote listening and speaking in the classroom. Conversational exchanges also feature, which not only support language development but are crucial in nurturing social relationships. It is also pleasing to see reference to teachers modelling language as a means of supporting children’s use of full sentences. 

The outcome of the pilot will be watched with anticipation, particularly around the workload levels (including collection of ‘evidence’) and the impact on language and communication development. Either way it’s likely to promote lively discussion and debate - let’s hope for the best outcome for our children.