These are the regions where children are lagging behind on speech and development

Almost one in four children in some northern council areas are lagging behind on speech and language standards, with fears the pandemic may further exacerbate regional differences.

Almost one in four children are not meeting the expected standard for speech and language development in some northern council areas, data analysis by NationalWorld has revealed.

The proportion of children meeting the expected speech and language standards by age six was 10 percentage points lower in Sheffield (77 per cent) in 2019 than in Richmond upon Thames (87 per cent), the highest-performing council.

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The data comes amid concerns that the pandemic has stunted language development in children, with research from The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) revealing an increase in four and five-year-olds in England needing help with language.

The top 10 highest-performing council areas were all in London or the south east.
The top 10 highest-performing council areas were all in London or the south east.

Analysing Department for Education data on phonics screening checks, NationalWorld discovered that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of children in the lowest-performing council area - Sheffield - did not meet the expected standard of language development in 2019.

Phonics screening checks take place at the end of year 1, when children are typically six-years-old, and assess whether a child meets the expected standard in phonics decoding - a test to measure their language skills.

In England as a whole, an average of 82 per cent of children in local authority run schools met the expected standard in 2019.

Regional differences emerged in the data, however, with the top ten highest-performing council areas all in London or the south-east.

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Six out of the ten lowest-performing council areas, meanwhile, were in the north of the country, with 22 per cent of children in Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Rochdale and Tameside and 21 per cent of children in Manchester failing to meet the expected standard.

Yorkshire was the lowest-performing region overall, with a below-average percentage of children - 80 per cent - meeting the expected standard in phonics assessments.

The London region, meanwhile, saw an above-average percentage of children - 84 per cent - meet the expected standard.

Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, however, both in the south east, saw standards similar to that of the lowest-performing northern council areas, with 22 per cent of children not meeting the expected language standard.

Erica Roscoe, senior research fellow at IPPR North, think tank for the north of England, said:

“The year one phonics results from 2019 demonstrate that, with few exceptions, there is a greater chance of pupils meeting expected standards if they live in London or the South East than in the north of England.

“Poverty threatens your chance of having a good start and getting on in life wherever you’re from, but the evidence suggests that this threat is even greater in the North than in the capital.

“The attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils had begun to narrow in recent years, but worryingly, as we see levels of poverty rise and regional inequalities deepen, we are likely to see a that gap widen – and this will affect children, families, communities and the government’s ability to deliver on its promise to ‘level up’.

Sheffield City Council were approached for comment.