Negotiamini Media
Truth is Powerful

Mind the ‘word gap’ – it’s dangerous


The idea of tackling ‘word gaps’ between poorer children and their wealthier peers has become normalised in schools – but it is part of a damaging deficit narrative that has been debunked by research, says Ian Cushing

In May 2022 Ofsted published a research review into the teaching of English. A large part of this review lent weight to the so-called “word gap” – the idea that low-income and racially minoritised children use lower quality language than their white, middle-class counterparts.

Ofsted claims that these perceived differences in language are determinants of “lasting socioeconomic and health inequalities”, and that to tackle these inequalities, teachers must “enable disadvantaged children to develop their vocabulary faster”.

Interventions designed to “close the word gap” are used by education policymakers as a supposed cure for social inequalities. But what does a more critical understanding of the word gap tell us?

In new research published in the journal Critical Inquiry in Language Studies , I set out to answer this question, tracing the resurgence of word gap ideologies in England’s schools in the past decade. What is a ‘word gap’?

The word gap is one way in which the language of poor, racially minoritised children is described in […]

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