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Home > News and views > Children and young people struggle to make friends, survey results show

Children and young people struggle to make friends, survey results show

A lonely child stands on his own away from a group of other children talking

Children and young people aged 5-17 are struggling to make friends because they lack self-confidence in speaking to other children, a new survey shows.

In the survey by Censuswide, which was commissioned by charity the English-Speaking Union, more than half of adults surveyed (52%) with children aged 5-9 years old agree¹ their children are struggling to make friends because they lack self-confidence in speaking to other children. Just under half of respondents (47%) with children aged 10-17 years old agree² their children are struggling to make friends for this reason.

Almost four in 10 adults surveyed with children aged 5-9 (37%) or aged 10-17 (35%) said that school and nursery school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic had a negative³ impact on their child’s speech and language development. Almost three quarters (72%) of respondents with children aged 5-9 say their child has only partially or not at all regained the social skills they lost, while 7% with children aged 5-9 and 17% with children aged 10-17 say they have not regained them at all.

A lack of confidence in speaking and expressing themselves is also holding back the 16-24-age group. Seven in 10 (71%) 16-24-year-olds surveyed agree* their lack of confidence in speaking or expressing themselves is holding them back. Almost two thirds (63%) of respondents this age say they always or often struggle to find the right words to express how they’re feeling. Almost nine out of ten (85%) respondents of this age who did not receive any public speaking/debate training in school or do not remember if they did, think receiving specific support at school for speaking and listening (oracy), would have helped** them progress better in their career and life generally.

The survey findings published by the English-Speaking Union follows the 2021 Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry, Speak for Change, when two thirds of primary teachers (69%) and nearly half of secondary teachers (44%) said school closures had a negative effect on the spoken language development of students eligible for pupil premium, compared with 1 in 5 teachers for their most advantaged pupils.

The English-Speaking Union is an international membership and education charity which works with teachers and schools to support the development of all children’s speaking and listening ability (oracy) and cross-cultural understanding as a foundation skill for life. It has built on the success of its ‘Discover Your Voice’ workshops in schools with the launch of ‘Oracy in Action’ a comprehensive self-teach resource for teachers to support the effective development of speaking and listening skills in children aged 7-11.

Seven schools piloted Oracy in Action before its recent launch, with 500 children taking part. The evidence-based programme provides teachers with ready-made lesson plans for teaching oracy linking to the national curriculum, with games and activities requiring no further planning or preparation.

Teachers who took part in the pilot gave positive feedback with 90% saying their students gained confidence in expressing themselves and developed a greater tolerance of alternative viewpoints. Zakia, a Key Stage Two pupil at Bradford East school Horton Park Primary School, where pupils developed their speaking and listening skills during the pilot for Oracy in Action, said: ‘Oracy is important because it helps us to understand each other. It builds up your confidence for when you grow older, and you want to do a job.’

Fellow pupil Blake added: ‘I enjoyed Oracy in Action because it helps you build confidence, and it can help you later on in your life.’

Annabel Thomas MacGregor, Director of Education at the English-Speaking Union said: ‘The independent survey by Censuswide found that too many children aren’t developing the speaking and listening (oracy) skills which are so important as a foundation skill for life and for learning.

‘Oracy in Action has been developed by leading education practitioners and provides a series of ready-made lesson plans and activities for primary school teachers to support the development of speaking and listening skills in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. It builds on the English-Speaking Union’s long experience, advocacy and research in oracy skills and following the successful pilot in 2022 we are delighted to make the programme available nationally.’

Click here to read a case study from Horton Park Primary who took part in the Oracy in Action pilot.

1 Combines “Strongly agree” and “Somewhat agree”
2 Combines “Strongly agree” and “Somewhat agree”
3 Combines “Very negative” and “Slightly negative”
* Combines “Strongly agree” and “Somewhat agree”
** Combines “Would have significantly helped” and “Would have slightly helped”

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