DfE launches schemes to support early language development

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The Department for Education has launched two schemes to help close the ‘word gap' that exists between disadvantaged children and their peers at the age of five.

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The DfE is funding two schemes to boost children's early language and communication skills

The aim is to give parents and carers the tools to widen children’s language, vocabulary and social skills before they start school.

It is providing £5m to fund a new scheme to provide practical advice for parents to help their pre-school children with language development and reading at home.

The fund will be run by the Education Endowment Foundation to trial projects to provide practical tools and advice to parents so that they can help their children learn new words through activities such as sharing nursery rhymes and reading.

The Government says that too many children arrive at school struggling with language and social skills, putting them at a disadvantage when they begin their formal education and making it harder for them to master the fundamentals of reading that other children take for granted.

The DfE said that over the past 40 years, the amount of time parents spend on development activities, such as playing and reading with their children, has risen from 23 minutes per day to 80 minutes, but research shows that three year olds from certain backgrounds are 37 percentage points less likely to be read to every day than their peers.  

Education secretary Damien Hinds said, ‘This Government wants every child to have the best start in life which means mastering the basics of speaking, reading and writing at an early age. It is important that parents and families can feel confident about supporting their children so they can start school with the appropriate level of language and social skills.

‘This new support will help parents with early language learning at home by giving them practical advice on activities like reading and learning the alphabet which are so important in making sure no child is left behind.’

The EEF will trial projects in the north of England, looking at what works best in improving children’s communication skills before they start school.

Sir Kevan Collins, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said, ‘Parents care very much about the future of their children, whatever their background or wherever they come from. But it can sometimes be difficult to get them involved in their child's learning and we know little about how to do this well. 

‘By testing different ways of tackling issues like the early years “word gap”, this new fund will give us much needed information about how we can give parents the tools they need to give their child the very best start in life.’

In a separate drive to aid social mobility, the Government is putting £8.5m into a new Early Years Social Mobility Peer Review Programme with the Local Government Association, for local authorities to improve early language and literacy development for disadvantaged children.

Councillor Roy Perry, vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said, ‘We are very pleased that the Government has announced funding for a new LGA peer review programme of sector-led support which will share and promote good practice and knowledge across councils.

‘Councils are absolutely determined to make sure that children get the best start in life. This is why we need to close 'the word gap' in the early years, by focussing on key early language and literacy skills, so that all children can begin school ready to thrive.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, 'Any money focussed on getting disadvantaged children school-ready should be money well-spent. But the fact is that these parents should already have access to professional support of this kind in the form of children's centres. That some parents are unable to get this support is a result of years of indifference towards children centres that has led to a lack of inspections and hundreds of closures. This tiny amount of money won't change that.

'If ministers were serious about closing the word gap they would be focussed on reaching as many children as possible through properly funded children’s centres and quality childcare practitioners, rather than offering piecemeal funding to a handful of parents. Until then announcements like this will be greeted with scepticism by a sector already feeling undervalued and worried about a future of rising costs and falling funds.'

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