Coronavirus: Early language support for disadvantaged children in 'catch up' plans

Nicole Weinstein
Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A £18m fund to support language development for disadvantaged children in the early years has been announced in the Government’s education recovery package.

Children will receive extra support for language development
Children will receive extra support for language development

As part of the £700m plan to help children and young people in England catch up on lost learning due to the pandemic, the Prime Minister today (24 February) announced further elements of the plan, which includes more language support for disadvantaged children in early years settings.

Further details will be published ‘shortly’, a spokesperson from the Department for Educatio (DfE) told Nursery World and Sir Kevan Collins, the education recovery commissioner, will be engaging with teachers, school and college leaders and families over the coming weeks and months to develop ‘longer term plans’.

The DfE announced a catch-up plan for language skills in Reception last summer and Nursery World are awaiting clarification as to whether the £18m fund is a new programme, or additional funding for the same scheme.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, 'We are extremely concerned about children’s early development and this must be addressed before we have a major crisis on our hands.

'Throughout this pandemic, we have seen low attendance in early years settings particularly the most vulnerable children. The majority of providers have been open throughout the pandemic and know there are much wider challenges for providers, practitioners and families including language development.

'A mere £18 million for children under five out of a pot of £300 million is just a drop in the ocean. It is not clear if any of this investment is intended for private, voluntary and independent settings to be able to support children and families who desperately need continued support with the emotional and physical development of their children.

'The early years sector was not consulted on this recovery fund but we could have given a clear direction as to what the priorities are for very young children and their families.'

Meanwhile, all pupils are expected to return to classrooms from 8 March as part of the first step of a roadmap for easing England's lockdown.

Boris Johnson said, ‘Teachers and parents have done a heroic job with home schooling, but we know the classroom is the best place for our children to be.

‘When schools re-open and face to face education resumes on 8 March, our next priority will be ensuring no child is left behind as a result of the learning they have lost over the past year.

‘This extensive programme of catch-up funding will equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to support their pupils, and give children the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that the package of measures would deliver ‘vital support’ to the children and young people who need it most, making sure everyone has the same opportunity to fulfil their potential no matter their background. 

He added, ‘I know that longer-term support over the length of this parliament will be vital to ensure children make up for lost learning.’

Commenting on the Government plans, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that some of the funding in today's announced was ‘recycled’ from previous commitments.

She added, ‘What is badly needed is a broader redesign of education policy with proper investment over the next five years to address the education divide…

‘40 percent of the education attainment gap is set in stone before children even start school - caused by economic disadvantage, a lack of food, of a decent place to live and chronic low pay. 46 percent of Black children are growing up in poverty. What Covid has exposed are the chronic levels of poverty and disadvantage that strike the lives of too many children.  

‘The education recovery plan will need to tackle issues of poverty, racism and social exclusion honestly. It demands substantially more funding than that announced today. We believe there is broad public support for proper investment to enable a fairer education system so that no children or young people are left behind.’

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