How has lockdown affected pupils’ language skills?

How has lockdown affected pupils’ language skills?

How has lockdown affected pupils’ language skills?

Lockdown deprived children of many educational experiences and the social contact essential in developing their vocabulary.  Whether it was visits to grandparents and family, trips to the park, school or afterschool clubs, overnight we all witnessed life change.

But it’s our children who are paying the price.

As we start moving out of full lockdown restrictions, like many, I’ve taken time to reflect. A BBC article last week prompted me to think about the impact on our primary school aged children.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has highlighted their key findings after surveying 58 primary schools across England, showing the huge impact this has made on early years and foundation children:

  • 76% said pupils starting school in September 2020 needed more support with communication than in previous years
  • 96% said they were concerned about pupils’ speech-and-language development

While the study focuses on younger children, this issue is greater than early years alone. All children were deprived of normal life through lockdown. But primary school children in particular have suffered as a result.

Lockdown limited exposure to new words and vocabulary, despite parents’ and teachers’ efforts with home schooling. Poor speech development can have long-term effects on learning.

And it naturally affects confidence.

So, what resources can bridge the gap in literacy that the pandemic has created?


Technical tools to support literacy

Digital technology has proven its value in the classroom throughout the pandemic. It’s been the playground, teacher and conduit that’s maintained communication when our children were forced to stay at home. Digital classrooms, apps and screen time in general have become acceptable resources in education, for all ages, both in school and at home.

But this technology comes at a cost not every school or household can afford.

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford explains:

“On top of the £3.5bn we have spent in each of the past three years on our free childcare entitlements, we have also invested £18m to support language development in the early years, part of our new £700m package to provide extra support to children who need it as they return to the classroom,”.

“This includes funding to build on the early successes of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention scheme and roll it out to more schools, so that thousands more four- and five-year-olds whose language, communication and literacy skills have been impacted by the disruption of the past year will benefit from targeted support.”

Many primary schools are relying on parents, local businesses and their communities to help provide the tech resources they need. From donating laptops and devices to sponsoring subscriptions to apps and educational programmes.

And we’re just one business who’s supported the demand.

Throughout lockdown, Fonetti supported literacy by providing free access to listening books from our digital library. We’re now supporting schools through a corporate sponsorship programme where businesses step in to sponsor an annual subscription to Fonetti to boost children’s literacy. 

How does this benefit schools?

Accredited by the Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds Campaign, Fonetti is one of a useful collection of technical tools available to teachers, parents and children to support learning and boost literacy.

While 1 in 9 children don’t have access to a reading book at home, 1 in 8 schools in the UK don’t have access to, or space for, a library.

Fonetti provides endless shelves of digital stories that don’t need any physical storage or quarantining. Which means children have instant access to stories at a price less than a high street coffee.

When it comes to language acquisition, every child is on their own individual journey. Fonetti allows teachers to tailor reading material to individual needs discreetly. Without children being conscious of what level their reading book is, compared to their peers, but just enjoying reading as a pastime.

Reading aloud on a 121 basis through an app that doesn’t judge the reader, or allow others to, but boosts a child’s confidence. It also provides a wealth of texts that introduce new words and enrich a child’s vocabulary.

Children who have missed out on social interactions due to lockdown can gain social and oral skills through reading aloud.

Skills that can unlock their potential for future learning of any subject.

Less limits, more learning

We can all help children develop the vocabulary that lockdown has delayed. Assistant head teacher Victoria Day shares her 5 Top Tips for increasing early years vocabulary.

But we mustn’t forget years 1-6 in primary education that also need support.

This is why we have the Fonetti Schools Portal, to support primary pupils and schools. You can either book a demo or sponsor an annual subscription for your local school and give the gift of reading to nurture bright futures in a post-pandemic world.


Libraries change lives – the story of our schools

Libraries change lives – the story of our schools

Libraries change lives – the story of our schools

In her open letter to Boris Johnson last week, children’s laureate, Cressida Cowell issued a rallying cry for government investment of £100 million in our school libraries. Her letter, backed by Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Sir Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman OBE, also reveals shocking statistics that one in eight primary schools in the UK has no library – something that is statutory in every prison.

Can you remember your first library experience? For some it’s rhyme time as a toddler, for others it’s visits to a mobile library van or a huge inner-city library overflowing with shelves full of stories and adventures. And you’d expect most children to feel comfortable reaching for a book in their primary school library too – if their school had one, that is.

Life-changing Libraries Project

We know all too well the impact the pandemic has had on literacy, particularly in primary school-aged children. What is even more apparent is the ‘vast inequality in current primary school library provision’ as a result of economics and geography:

“…schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals were more than twice as likely not to have access to a designated library space.

These children from the poorest communities will be the most impacted, with reports such as from the Sutton Trust warning that they are going to fall further behind. It is these children, and their families, whose voices are not always heard, and I am using my platform as Waterstones Children’s Laureate to speak out on their behalf. This is not something that can wait. We must act now.”

Cowell demands a level playing field for all children, created by ring-fenced funding for school libraries of £100 million. This would boost physical space, expertise and fund vital stock, the equivalent of one new book a year for each child. Where budget has been allocated directly to primary schools for physical education since 2013, sadly the investment in literacy is incomparable. Reading is life-changing and it’s essential changes are made.

And that’s exactly how our platform began

When one in nine children doesn’t have access to a book, but does have access to a tablet… where 200,000 UK children leave primary school EACH YEAR without reaching their expected level of reading, and where 1 in 8 schools don’t have a library (yet its a legal requirement in prison), it’s clear that technology needs to play its part in supporting literacy, alongside traditional libraries.

Fonetti was founded to make reading accessible to all children, regardless of demographic, and to make reading fun for children who found words on a page a challenge, whether through dyslexia or SEND, or simply because stories were yet to make an impact in their world.

How we interact with stories hasn’t changed. Throughout evolution our ancestors have relied on the power of stories and our brains are hard-wired to recognise stories as a medium. Yet the way we access stories has changed. Not all children grow up hearing tales told orally, or via the page. Technology plays a huge part and the gaming generation is less au-fait with fiction than with screen-based adventures, switching stories, quite literally, for screens.

Before children can enjoy the rich treasures of a library, they need to already love books

And technology can bridge this gap. For children who love the fast-paced artificial realities of their screens, Fonetti uses gamification that induces a responsible level of dopamine to make reading fun. Children read aloud, independently, from an ever-evolving library of listening books ™, one that’s accessible to all who have access to a tablet and wi-fi. Accredited by the Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds Campaign as the only approved platform for children to practise their reading, Fonetti is changing the lives of primary school children across the country in schools that have subscribed, or been gifted a subscription, to our library. So, we feel a huge affinity with Cressida’s ‘Life-changing Libraries Project’ here at Fonetti HQ.

All children should have the same chances

Literacy changes lives. From research conducted in 2019, The National Literacy Trust and Nottingham Trent University found that ‘children using their school library were more likely to read for pleasure and had better reading and writing attitudes – this difference was especially marked for those eligible for free school meals.’ Literacy should not be a currency reserved for the wealthy – our society relies on a level playing field for our children, so they can make informed decisions in their futures.

Confidence is a gift. The confidence to read is a power. One that can only be achieved if screen time is normalised and book poverty has no place in a post-pandemic landscape. Literacy is in demand more than ever before. At Auris Tech we fully support the Life-Changing Libraries Project, Cressida Cowell and BookTrust and remain dedicated to boosting literacy and bridging the gap between technology and tales in primary education throughout the UK.


Literacy crisis is the greatest threat to our children after Covid-19

Literacy crisis is the greatest threat to our children after Covid-19

Literacy crisis is the greatest threat to our children after Covid-19

Over the Easter Weekend The Times ran an article Boris Johnson fears Lockdown illiteracy surge reporting the number of children struggling with literacy, as a result of lockdown learning, is rising by 30,000 over the past year.

If that’s not shocking enough, according to unpublished government figures revealed this week, more than 200,000 primary school pupils could make the transition to secondary school without the adequate literacy skills for their age. Many will not be able to read properly. It’s reported this will be Boris Johnson’s top priority after the coronavirus vaccination programme. The Government is expected to unveil a new four-year ‘emergency plan’ in May as a direct response. This could include after-school and holiday clubs as well as small group tutoring. But is manpower enough to solve this?

The solution is digital learning

It’s estimated that English students have lost more than 800 million teaching hours due to the pandemic. While those hours cannot be recouped instantly, independent digital learning can play a huge part in supporting the nation’s primary school pupils. As founder and CEO of Auris Tech – voice tech for literacy in the UK and English language learning, I understand the vital role technology plays in our schools. You can reach more children with technology. There’s no way reading can get back on track without it. Technology is the greatest way to reach people – as a leveller.

And the pandemic has proved that. Not just in education and the academic sector but in business in general. You only have to ask business leaders who led the IT strategy in their company? Was it their Chief Tech Officers, CEO or Covid-19? The answer will be the latter. Collaboration tools have supported businesses globally throughout this pandemic. Zoom has become a verb as well as one of the most used apps in lockdown, (increasing its profits by 400 percent*) with Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Google Classrooms being other go-to functions to keep schools and businesses connected. The digital realm has been a life-line and it will continue to be for many years to come.

If digital platforms are the foundation of future learning, smart technology applications are the perfect partners to guarantee success. Digital learning with smart AI and safe technology is a recipe for success. It provides a level playing field to all pupils, not just those within a radius of a school ranked as ‘excellent’. Schools simply don’t have the people power to offer 121 tuition for every child without technology. Accessibility is key to learning and indeed to literacy. The Government has made a massive in road to schools with technology but they need to install the right smart tech to guarantee success. The Hungry Little Minds campaign is just one example of this.

Reading is a foundation to learning. It’s a building block for every other academic subject and it’s essential in providing key skills for life. Confidence in our children is at an all time low as a result of the pandemic. Many children have had limited verbal interaction with their peers and these communicative skills can all be boosted through independent digital learning, as can vital life skills. Children are very comfortable with technology. Primary school pupils in particular are digitally native and expect technology to play a part in their lives.

Connecting communities

Throughout the pandemic there have been some fantastic initiatives that promote independent digital learning. MBE Oli Barrett’s ‘Turn On The Subtitles’ campaign is just one example that encourages subliminal reading and showing the power of digital intervention. Turning on the subtitles while children are watching television can double the chances of a child improving their literacy. One simple step that can make a huge impact.

The BBC’s ‘Equipment For Schools’ campaign has also offered a life-line to learning across the country during the pandemic.

Schools have relied on support from businesses to keep them connected throughout lockdowns. Whether it’s providing devices, technology support and expertise or by sponsoring subscriptions to educational apps like Fonetti, there’s no doubt how smart tech and independent digital learning has played a huge part in lockdown learning. It’s now down to the Government to invest in the right AI and smart tech to complement this initial foundation for schools to build on for the next four years. And we at Auris Tech will be ready to take their call.


All Digital School Award

All Digital School Award

All Digital School Award

We’re excited to announce Fonetti has been awarded the ADS Editors’ Choice badge.

All Digital School is an educational resource platform that supports educators, parents and students. During the pandemic they’ve helped source the best learning materials for home-schooling and are dedicated to finding tools that create better learning experiences online.

We’re thrilled that ADS have chosen Fonetti as their favourite reading app – we’re biased but we think they’ve got good taste, don’t you?

Girl on iPad

Learning to read English as another language

Learning to read English as another language

Learning English as another language

Learning to read English as another language

Cast your mind back to when you first learnt to read

Can you remember the words you just couldn’t grasp?

The ones that you found tricky to say? Are they the ones that still catch you out or can you spell them with ease because of years of practise?

English is a difficult language to learn. How do we tell the difference between read and read? Why do we pronounce choose like lose and not like loose? It can be complicated enough for native speakers to grasp. So, when English is your second language or maybe not the first language of your household it can make reading even harder.

For families who speak English as Another Language (EAL), even the most advanced apps and technical resources can still add an additional layer of complication to literacy. If English isn’t your first language, can you still support your children with their reading?

Of course, you can.

But can you help them tell the difference between those tricky words and give them examples to help them remember as easily as you can in your mother tongue? Can you pronounce the words they’re stuck on or are some of them new to you too?

If they are, that’s normal.

The human brain only uses 800* different words on a daily basis, so we only retain the words we use the most frequently. So regardless of whether your children speak English as a first language or additional language – there will always be vocabulary that they learn and never use.

But what if there was a way you could help your children build their vocabulary, practise their pronunciation and grow in confidence reading aloud, without needing any help from you?

Meet Fonetti

It’s an iPad and Android tablet app that’s started a reading revolution and is taking the world by storm. It’s the reading assistant available to every home and is the technology behind interactive reading.

Approved by the Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds campaign as a platform for children to practise their reading, Fonetti is the world’s first listening bookshop. You could say it’s a bit like karaoke, except it’s more about speech than song.

Children choose a story and start reading aloud. When they get the words right, they turn green. If they get stuck, they double tap for help and can hear how the word should sound.

So, they can practise again and again, with confidence – as there’s no one else listening to them but themselves. When they finish a book, they win rewards, stars and fanfares…as well as a growing love of reading.

We know right now your children are your focus more than ever.

Their world has changed overnight and they’re looking to you for answers.

And you don’t have them all.

You’re probably playing several roles in a 24-hour period – parent, teacher, playmate, chef, cleaner and co-pilot of a purple space rocket ready to launch on mission to discover a hidden planet.

Finding the time to be a reading-assistant too can be a challenge – especially on a 121 basis with multiple readers.

Give yourself the break you deserve and let Fonetti take care of fiction. Our app can have up to four users – ideal for larger families or grandchildren using Fonetti when they visit their grandparents. Not only will it help build your child’s confidence reading aloud, it will improve their independence as well as their literacy.

Smart technology

Designed by linguistic professors at the University of Edinburgh, Fonetti can recognise readers speaking English as a second language, those with dyslexia and SEN. So, it can support every reader individually and allow them to read at their own pace. And as a parent it keeps in touch too.

You’ll receive regular weekly updates that tell you:

  • how long your child has read for
  • which stories they’ve read
  • the number of times a book has been chosen
  • and what words they’ve struggled with.

It will also keep you up to date with their progress and tell you if they’ve reached a new reading level so you can give them praise for their hard work.

What age is Fonetti suitable for?

Our technology is so easy-to-use, children aged 4 upwards can use it independently. From ABC books to early readers and beyond, there’s stories in our library for every age and ability.

Mum of two, Neha Sharma explains:

‘My daughter started using Fonetti as soon as she started reception class. With two busy parents who work full-time, her grandparents regularly help with Maths homework…but English isn’t as easy. It’s not their first language. But with Fonetti, she doesn’t miss out. The app tells her when she’s doing well and helps her to choose the books that are right for her based on her reading level. It provides self-guided reading practise that helps her with her pronunciation, as she’s just reading to herself. Although her Grandma can’t help her read, my daughter reads the Fonetti stories in English then translates them into Hindi for her Grandma to enjoy too. So, she’s not just practicing reading, it’s helping her learn Hindi and improves her comprehension. It’s also helping us as parents learn phonics – as she blends and segments her words so that she pronounces them correctly – differently to how we were taught. Fonetti has definitely nurtured her love of reading – it’s something she can do independently and at home. It’s become a listening ear that’s part of her learning routine’

Every child should find reading fun – regardless of age or ability. And we believe with Fonetti, EAL readers get twice the enjoyment.

Firstly, for the language they think in and secondly for the one they read aloud. Fonetti is an adventure that never ends – give your children the gift of reading that will inspire their imaginations for a lifetime.