DfE to pay for free learning apps for disadvantaged children

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Families from disadvantaged backgrounds will get free access to apps as part of a new Government initiative.

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Children aged between two and four will be provided with a selection of educational apps for smart phones and tablets, education secretary Damian Hinds has announced today, in a bid to use screen time ‘constructively’.

Parents in up to 12 pilot areas across the country will be given interactive learning tools and text message tips to help them support children’s early language and literacy development at home.

On average, disadvantaged children are four months behind in their overall development by age five. This gap grows by another six months by the age of 11 and by the time they take their GCSEs they are, on average, 19 months behind their peers in overall attainment, the Government said.

A range of apps will be selected by the advisory panel the Department for Education (DfE) set up last month. The panel, chaired by Professor Jackie Marsh of the University of Sheffield, will choose apps it believes have the highest educational benefit.

The DfE will then buy subscriptions to the apps which it will provide free of charge to families.
Mr Hinds said, ‘No parent has all of the answers. Being a parent is like learning to drive: wonderful, full of new discovery, but at times challenging, with plenty of obstacles to swerve. Our children are growing up in a constantly changing world and it is hard to keep up.

‘And when it comes to children and technology – that’s where a manual can be helpful. Not all screen time is created equal: on one side there are the pressures that come with social media and the time spent looking at a screen, which is a key worry for parents – but on the other, the power of technology and the internet can open up a whole new world when embraced properly.

‘But it’s also difficult to navigate, and often expensive, so I want to support parents of all backgrounds to feel able to embrace its benefits and use it in a measured, sensible way that helps improve children’s early development at home.

‘Screens can be an easy distraction for children, but harnessing the power of technology to support early communication and development means that we have another tool in our arsenal to help young kids develop those skills.’

Mr Hinds also confirmed today that nearly 6,000 families in the north of England will take part in four new programmes to support children’s development at home.

Up to 375 schools and nurseries will be recruited for the projects, run by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Leeds-based education charity SHINE.

The trials will include:

Making-it-REAL: 960 families in 120 schools in Greater Manchester and Yorkshire will trial a National Children’s Bureau programme which trains early years professionals to visit families at home and get parents more involved in drawing, singing songs and counting with their children

Group Triple P (Positive Parenting Program): Trained experts will show 1,800 families across 150 schools and nurseries how to improve their children’s language and social and emotional development through role play, homework exercises and video clips of positive parenting techniques

Parent Child Home Programme: Trained experts will visit 320 families with two-year-olds in Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley at home twice a week for 15 months, demonstrating reading, conversation and play activities and providing books and educational toys for the home learning environment

Tips by Text: More than 2,700 families with four- and five-year-olds from 105 schools in the north east will receive three texts a week for eight months in a trial to encourage activities which help develop literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional skills, such as counting the number of plates on a table

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