Projects to support disadvantaged children’s early learning awarded £18m

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Projects aimed at boosting home learning and improving training for professionals working with children with SEND, are among those that have been allocated a share of £18m in DfE funding.

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The Scouts are to trial expanding their programme to four and five-year-olds

The education secretary Damian Hinds announced today the projects that will receive a share of the multi-million investment to support disadvantaged families with children’s early communication skills.

As part of this, £6.5m has been allocated to voluntary and community groups, through the Department for Education’s Early Years Disadvantage VCS 2018-20 grants programme, for projects that close the disadvantage gap at age five or support young children with SEND.

The organisations and charities that have been awarded funding include:

  • The National Literacy Trust to improve the home learning environment through volunteering and digital support.
  • The Scouts, in partnership with Action for Children, to pilot a national volunteer programme for children aged four and five, with the aim of narrowing opportunity gaps.
  • The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) to deliver its Together for Twos programme, working with disadvantaged families to support them to better understand how accessing early education will support their child.
  • The Pre-school Learning Alliance for its First and Foremost programme, providing families with access to digital activities and support through the early years workforce.
  • ICAN for its Change the Conversation about Language project, which will work with disadvantaged parents in three metro mayoral regions using the EasyPeasy app and a Tots Talking programme.
  • The National Children’s Bureau’s consortium of organisations to work jointly across councils and with parents to encourage a cultural shift in support for children with SEND.

A further £5 million will fund trials in the north of England to research the best way to help parents in disadvantaged communities to start building their children’s skills at home. The trials, including new and existing schemes, which will be led by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in partnership with SHINE, will include a text message scheme for parents to improve literacy, maths and social and emotional development.

£1.8 million has also been allocated to a Public Health England (PHE) programme which will involve new speech, language and communication training for health visitors delivered by the Institute of Health Visitors.

Another £5 million will go to organisations to investigate what works through bespoke local projects focused on best practice in early language, literacy and maths, to build and share a stronger evidence base. A second round of projects applications has now opened.

Alongside this, the Department for Education has confirmed that a £20 million programme of training for early years staff in disadvantaged areas will support children’s early language, literacy and numeracy skills, benefitting up to 60,000 pre-school age children.

Speaking today at a summit bringing together nearly 100 business, charities and organisations to tackle the ‘last taboo’ in education – supporting parents with learning at home, the education secretary will say, ‘Education begins long before children arrive in the classroom. It begins as soon as they leave the maternity ward, in the crucial early years in the home, where their parents and carers help shape and prepare them to start school. But for lots of parents, as much as they want the best for their children, they lack the support they need to ensure that their children are arriving at school at the same level as their peers.

‘That is why I am working with experts from around the country, using research from around the world, to propose a set of actions for parents to teach them simple steps to playing with, reading with and chatting with their children. 

‘Because a strong home learning environment is about more than supporting literacy and communication skills – it is the key to building a child’s confidence, their belief in their own abilities, and their determination and strength of character.’

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Matt Hyde, chief executive of the Scouts, said, ‘Research has shown that high-quality early years programmes can make a significant positive impact on a young person’s development.

‘At the Scouts, our mission is to prepare young people for the future by equipping them with the skills they need to succeed. We believe that this early years trial will help create a programme that will support the development of young people across the UK during this key, formative stage of their life.’

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, ‘Building on our successful work to support more families to consider childminding and more childminders to consider offering an early education place, PACEY has welcomed the funding it will receive to work with disadvantaged families in target local authority areas, to support them to better understand how accessing early education will support their child.

‘As part of this, we will give parents the chance to meet local childminders and use their two-year-old funding to experience the unique support childminding can offer. The programme will work in partnership with Job Centre Plus to inform more parents of how childminding can support their childcare needs and, in doing so, encourage some to consider childminding as a career.’

While the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) welcomed the funding, it said it was ‘just a drop in the ocean’.

Its chief executive Purnima Tanuku explained ‘Spending £18 million on small projects does very little to address the nursery sector’s £437 million black hole created by the Budget especially when the Treasury has clawed back £600 million unspent Tax-Free Childcare money.

‘This is another example of the DfE’s piecemeal approach to supporting young children’s education which is unlikely to have any real impact on closing the attainment gap.

‘They must focus on supporting more two-year-old children from disadvantaged backgrounds to take up funded places in high quality nurseries which are vital to children’s development and early education.

‘If this Government is serious about making a real social impact, ministers must address urgent underfunding and the recruitment crisis facing childcare and early years providers.’

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