The aim is to help disadvantaged families and children with additional needs, who are more likely to struggle with reading and language when they start primary school.
The Department for Education said that research shows that where there is a 'word gap' - the gap in communication skills between disadvantaged children and their peers - it can have a longterm impact on a child's education. It wants to fund projects that will close this gap.
The Early Years Disadvantage VCS grant programme 2018-20 is focusing on two specific priority themes:
- closing the disadvantage gap at the age of five
- early years special educational needs and disabilities (EYSEND).
The DfE is looking to award 18-month contracts, which it expects to be worth a minimum of £250,000.
Successful bids will be awarded funding for projects from 1 October 2018 to 31 March 2020.
The department suggested projects that could receive funding include home visits from trained early years professionals to help parents support their children in learning new words through reading and singing nursery rhymes, or online tools that help broaden the vocabulary parents use with young children.
Organisations will also be able to bid for funding to work with disadvantaged communities to encourage families to access funded early education.
Education secretary Damien Hinds said, ‘Giving every child the best start in life means making sure the right early development opportunities are in place. That starts in the home, which means giving parents the confidence to help their children read, learn new words and social skills at an early age.
‘Children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with additional needs can face the greatest barriers in their early development, so it is important that where that help is needed it is in place as early as possible – such as through our free childcare for two-year-olds from lower income families which is used by more than 70 per cent of those who are eligible.
‘This funding boost will go to organisations with a proven track record of breaking down learning barriers for children with additional needs.’
Previous successful bidders include the National Literacy Trust, which used its grant to set up Early Years Together at 2, a programme that invites parents and carers to nurseries to watch how children learn, and gives them practical ideas for continuing learning at home. The NLT said it had helped 130 parents to support their child's communication and language development, and also trained early years practitioners in 20 settings.
Tara Parker, senior programme manager for early years at the NLT, said, 'Having reported improved confidence in supporting parents, most settings will continue to deliver the programme to help even more families beyond the funding period.'
Home-Start was previously awarded £400,000 to pilot a 'word pedometer' programme, which provided disadvantaged families with coaching from trained home visiting volunteers, helping new parents increase the number and quaity of words they use with their babies.
Grants will be awarded across each of the two priority themes. The exact number and size of individual grants will depend on the range and quality of bids received but the DfE said it expected to award fewer grants than in previous rounds.
The department said the funding was not aimed at research, pilots, small scale local innovation/delivery projects, services or activities which it would expect to be commissioned locally.
VCS organisations may submit bids related to one or more priority area, but with no more than two applications per organisation. A separate application form must be completed for each priority area.
- For more information on how to apply visit the Contracts Finder section of the gov.uk website here The closing date for bids is 27 July 2018.