Funding scheme boosts early speech and language intervention

Hannah Crown
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Councils have improved local speech and language services and raised the profile of the early years under a new £8.5 million Government scheme targeting disadvantaged under-fives, according to a new report.

The early years Local Government Programme has helped participating councils make structural improvements to their services and increased the confidence and skills of early years professionals working with these families, an evaluation has found.

The programme was launched in 2018 to try to tackle development gaps in language and literacy skills early.

It has two parts – the Early Years Social Mobility Peer Review Programme, which was conducted by early years professionals from councils, health or education sectors, who assessed the opportunities for local services to improve early outcomes for disadvantaged children at age five, with a focus on early speech, language and communication.

The second strand is an Early Outcomes Fund which provided funding for local authorities to improve local services – by improving leadership, building capacity and improving systems and evaluation of these – to ensure better early years language outcomes.

The evaluation found that the peer review programme, which was delivered in 27 councils, resulted in improved partnership working, increased senior leadership engagement, and structural changes to early years speech and language provision. As a result of the programme, one council developed a new standalone early years service, while another said they developed a collaborative school readiness plan, as during the peer review it emerged that different stakeholders had different understandings of what the term ‘school readiness’ meant.

The second strand, the early outcomes fund, was used to secure additional cash for early years speech, language and communication interventions, running eight projects in 27 councils. According to the evaluation, ‘Several interviewees said they were already aware of improvements they wanted to make, but were limited by their available funding.’

The programme was also found to have improved engagement from senior leaders and led to more integrated working. The money was spent on interventions such as stay and play sessions and baby and toddler groups as well as council-level projects such as training early years support staff, developing standardised assessment tools, and improvements to data systems.

Children’s minister Vicky Ford said, 'Since 2013 the proportion of children achieving a good level of development at the end of Reception year has gone from one in two to nearly three quarters of children – but we can and must do more to tackle early language development gaps. 

‘The findings published today not only show the progress we have made, but provide us with a comprehensive picture of where we need to focus our attention so we can continue to drive up improvements, particularly for the most disadvantaged children.’

New health visiting scheme

Health visitors across England are to be trained to use a toolkit which can identify very young children with delayed language development as part of their checks at age two and at 30 months. The Early Language Identification Measure (ELIM) and intervention, which has been piloted in five areas, involves using a simple word list and child observation. Research led by Newcastle University, published in a new Public Health England report, shows the ELIM can identify 94 per cent of toddlers with early language needs.

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