Clarks shoe shop are training 6,500 staff in a bid to improve children’s language skills, but National Literacy Trust’s Judith Parke’s has said it is “not about teaching” children, it is about “modelling good communication between an adult and child”.
The training is part of a government campaign to improve children’s literacy levels, with companies such as WH Smith and HarperCollins also taking part.
Ms Parke, the Early Years Campaign Manager told talkRADIO’s Matthew Wright: “We think it is a fantastic initiative and it is something that we are developing with Clarks.
“We know that children from poor backgrounds start school 19 months behind their wealthier counterparts in terms of speech and language.
“That punishes them for the rest of their school career. That is a gap that is incredibly difficult to make up and impacts the likelihood of getting A-levels, GCSEs and jobs.
“What we are trying to do is support Clarks to just model good speech and language when kids are in the stores.
“It is not about teaching them, it is about modelling good communication between an adult and child and nudge people into increasing the amount they are chatting to children.
“We know that what happens at home pre-school is fundamental.”
'There is no instruction manual'
Ms Parke added: The reality is that they are talking to the children anyway. They are more than likely to be talking to the children in store when they are coming in to select shoes.
“We know that lots of people are going to Clarks for those first pairs of school shoes.”
As part of the campaign, WH Smith is concentrating its efforts in Swindon, where there are high levels of illiteracy, to advise parents on how to support their children’s communication skills.
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “There’s no instruction manual for being a parent. For some who left school a long time ago or who have low confidence in their own abilities, it can be overwhelming to know where to start with supporting children’s learning at home before they start school - and we know that too many children are arriving at school already behind their peers.
“By working with a growing number of businesses, charities and experts, we’re making it easier for parents to kickstart this early development – helping to take forward our national mission to boost children’s early development.
“New projects are being set up all over the country and our expert panel will create trusted tools that parents can be confident using, so that every child develops the skills they need to thrive.”