Researchers say long-term social, behavioural and educational impacts can come from poor language skills among disadvantaged children.

In a report set to highlight the benefits of teacher professional development (PD), Monash University experts say like in many thing, effective education is the key.

School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) Associate Professor Pamela Snow has collaborated on a trial that examined the impact of teacher PD for improving children’s oral language skills and early literacy success.

“Reduced oral language competence in the early years compromises psychosocial development and has been shown in overseas research to predispose to mental health problems,” said Professor Snow.

“Language difficulties in childhood and adolescence are also linked with externalising behaviour disorders.”

In a trial conducted across 14 disadvantaged Victorian primary schools, Prof Snow examined the effectiveness of an intervention to improve teacher knowledge and skills pertaining to the oral language skills (listening and speaking) in children from low socio-economic status (SES) families, in the critical first two years of school.

“Our pilot intervention was a successful ‘proof of concept’, demonstrating that teacher PD leads to improved oral language competence in at-risk children,” said Snow.

The project will now be taken to 87 disadvantaged schools in the Catholic and state education sectors in Victoria, in a project funded by an ARC Linkage grant.

The team has identified that unless oral language competency is acquired early in life, interpersonal, academic and vocational goals may not be achieved, resulting in a higher risk of educational disengagement and social marginalisation in adolescence.

“Although we now have the evidence showing that greater language support is needed for vulnerable young people, this must be translated into policy and everyday practice,” Prof Snow said

“From an economic perspective, the cost of language intervention services is modest compared with the cost of supporting a young person who might require state benefits, prison placement, public housing and mental health services.”

Professor Snow’s research was funded by an ARC Discovery and Linkage schemes and the Criminology Research Council, as well as by NSW Juvenile Justice.