DfE funds £6.5m plan to tackle early language gap

Under-fives living in disadvantaged areas are to benefit from additional help with their early speech and communication skills, as part of a £6.5m investment from the DfE.

The funding will be used to train health, visitors, early years staff and family support workers in eight of the most disadvantaged areas of the country to identify children, from birth to five, with poor language and communication skills to make sure they have the skills needed to ‘thrive at school’.

Projects will be delivered in the eight areas, covering 27 local councils. They will build on successful existing schemes already in place.

The pot of money is coming from the Department for Education’s £8.5m early years local government programme, announced last year, to improve disadvantaged children’s early language and literacy development.

The eight areas, three of which are Government Opportunity Areas, where projects are being delivered are:

  • Leicester City (with Derby City and Nottingham City)
  • Wolverhampton (Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall)
  • Staffordshire (with Stoke-on-Trent)
  • Luton
  • Doncaster (with Barnsley, Rotherham, Sheffield)
  • Halton
  • Salford (with the nine other Greater Manchester Combined Authority)
  • Swindon (Gloucestershire)


In Wolverhampton, the council will work with the National Literacy Trust to engage a range of professionals including early years teachers, health visitors and speech therapists to introduce pop up sessions for parents. The council will also introduce an online tool to inform parents of the different child development stages and provide tips and tools to use at home.

In Staffordshire, successful early learning projects, including the Speak Out project, which  train and support parents, carers and staff to make early communication development a priority, will be scaled-up.

Luton will build on its Flying Start programme that provides parents with support from pregnancy to their child’s fifth birthday, prioritising children’s communication and language skills.

Halton will introduce family reading sessions and set up TALK Halton to assess two- to four-year-olds' language using a screening toolkit, with the aim of reducing the number of referrals to speech and language therapists by age five.

In Swindon, evidence-based early learning interventions, such as the Peep Learning Together Programme, will be used to support children at risk of or who display early signs of language development difficulties.

The announcement comes days after the DfE revealed it is launching a campaign later this year to urge parents to ‘Chat, Play, Read’ with their childcare before they start school.

Health visitors

The Government has also confirmed a second wave of training for an additional 600 health visitors, rolling out nationally from next month. Places will be offered to all local authorities, with priority given to the most disadvantaged areas.

It follows an announcement in February that 1,000 health visitors would be trained to identify children’s early language and communication needs.

DfE comment

Education secretary Damian Hinds said, ‘Ask any parent and they want their child to have the best start in life. But we know that those from a disadvantaged background often start school already behind when it comes to communication and language development.

‘This multimillion-pound investment will provide better support to families in some of the most deprived areas of the country. No one is born knowing how to be a mum or a dad and parenting does not come with a manual, I want to support families with hints and tips to propel their child’s learning so they can go on to reach their full potential, whatever their background.’

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