The Department for Education has launched two new schemes to give parents and carers the tools to expand children’s language, vocabulary and social skills before the age of five.

A £5m fund, run by the Education Endowment Foundation, will trial projects to provide practical tools and advice to parents so they are able to teach their children new words through activities such as singing nursery rhymes or reading.

The Government says that there are too many children at school who struggle with language and social skills, putting them at a disadvantage when they start formal education.

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

Damien Hinds, education secretary, 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 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 Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) plans to trial projects in the north of England to judge what works best in improving children’s communication skills before school.

Sir Kevan Collins, CEO of the EEF, 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.”

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

Vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Roy Perry, 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 focusing on key early language and literacy skills so that all children 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 the early 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, [an] announcement 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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