Children under the age of five have benefitted from better support with speech and language through Government investment in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country.

New findings published today (1 Dec) show that several Government programmes have made a number of positive steps to improving early language intervention for pre-school age children through local improvements and interventions, ensuing they are prepared to thrive at school and helping to close the language gap between disadvantage children and their more affluent peers.

Evaluation of the £8.5 million Early Years Local Government Programme, which support local services to tackle development gaps in language and literacy skills for disadvantaged five-year-olds, demonstrated improved skills and confidence among early years professionals in identifying and supporting families in need and better working partnerships across different services - all of which has directly led to better speech and language outcomes for children and families in these areas.

Alongside this, Public Health England has today rolled out a measure to help health visitors identify children who need additional support with speech, language and communication as part of their checks at age two and at 30 months. The Early Language Identification Measure (ELIM) and intervention was successfully piloted in five areas - Derbyshire, Middlesbrough, Newham, Wakefield and Wiltshire - and will help make sure that families who need more help are identified and supported appropriately and in a timely way.

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said:

“We know the first few years of a child’s life are vital for development, especially for building up good speech, language and communication skills that set them on track to succeed. 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, closing those gaps.”

These research reports provide a wide and comprehensive picture of the progress made in early years development as well as the next steps the Government is taking to build on this progress.

It follows confirmation from the Chancellor in the Government’s Spending Review on Wednesday 25 November of further funding for early language interventions, and an investment of £44 million for the next financial year to allow for an increase in the average hourly rate for early years providers.

The Department for Education’s Early Outcomes Fund, one of two strands of the Local Government Programme, used a variety of interventions to improve the quality of interactions between children, their parents and carers and the quality of their language and communication skills. These included ‘stay and play’ music and rhyme sessions (‘universal’ interventions), baby and toddler groups (targeted interventions) and individual support from health visitors and other professionals (specialist interventions).

Public Health England will roll out training to support health visitors in using a new Early Language Identification Measure (ELIM) and intervention tool alongside their wider guidance on Best Start in Speech, Language and Communication. It follows initial training of 1,000 health visitors in identifying speech, language and communication needs of children in some of the most deprived parts of England early-on.

To further help identify the significant factors affecting the development of young children across England, DfE has today published a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) analysing data collected by the International Early Learning and Child Well-being Study (IELS).

In March, IELS highlighted that five-year-old children in England outperformed those from the other participating countries - United States and Estonia - in numeracy skills, including working with numbers, shape and space, measurement and pattern.

Today’s report further strengthens the evidence of the positive effect the home environment can have on early language and literacy skills. It points to simple activities that parents and carers can do at home – such as regularly reading to their children, talking to them about their feelings and being involved with their school – that have a significant effect on early language development.

The reports published today include:

  • Publication of the Evaluation of the Early Years Local Government Programme. The aim of the Local Government Programme is to tackle development gaps in early language and literacy skills at the earliest opportunity. The Local Government Programme had two strands: the Early Years Social Mobility Peer Review Programme and the Early Outcomes Fund (EOF) and this report is an evaluation of these two strands. The peer review programme in partnership with the Local Government Association and the Early Intervention Foundation, by March 2020 the programme had delivered in 27 councils.  The Early Outcomes Fund ran eight projects in 27 councils: Leicester City with Derby City and Nottingham City; Wolverhampton with Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall; Staffordshire with Stoke-on-Trent; Luton; Doncaster with Barnsley, Rotherham, Sheffield; Halton; Salford with the nine other Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) local authorities; and Swindon with Gloucestershire.
  • Publication of the Early Language Identification Measure (ELIM) and interventiontool. This is a measure that has been developed in partnership with Public Health England and is an evidence-based assessment and intervention tool that will support children and families with early language development, as well as supporting professional practice and service development. Public Health England is rolling out training to support health visitors to use the ELIM and intervention tool.
  • The International Early Learning and child well-being Study (IELS). IELS is an international comparison study led by the OECD, which in England involved one-to-one direct assessments of a nationally representative sample of 2,577 children aged five and surveys of their parents/carers and teachers, in 2018. The international analysis published in March 2020 showed five-year-olds in England developing strongly overall, particularly in emergent numeracy, emergent literacy and positive (non-disruptive) behaviour. The national report for England further contextualises the findings for England by analysing development gaps and identifying which groups of children may benefit from additional support. It was completed on behalf of the Department for Education by the National Foundation of Educational Research (NFER).

Reforms set to boost early language outcomes and cut workload 

On the 1st July DfE published to transform early years learning and development and reduce unnecessary teacher workload:

From Sept 2021 Reception teachers will benefit from a cut in unnecessary paperwork giving them more time to support children’s early development, the Department for Education has confirmed in its response to a consultation proposing reforms to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

More than 2,000 early years professionals responded to the consultation about revised early learning goals – key measures teachers use to check children’s development at the end of the Reception year – with a consistent view that they were clear and would contribute to a well-rounded assessment.

A focus on language and vocabulary development, as well as teaching numbers in maths, was welcomed – equipping children with important skills as they begin their school journey.

The Department for Education has also confirmed that disadvantaged and vulnerable pre-school aged children will receive additional support as they transition back into early education. Grants worth more than £1 million over six months will go to national early years voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations including National Children’s Bureau, Early Years Alliance and Pacey.

Education Minister Nick Gibb said:

It is encouraging to see that many Reception teachers and early years staff welcome our plans to reduce time spent on unnecessary paperwork and help them spend more time interacting with pupils in the classroom. These reforms will strengthen the teaching practice and improve pupils’ vocabulary and reading as they move into Year 1 and beyond.

We will be rolling out these improvements to the whole early years sector from September 2021 and will continue working closely with nurseries and schools so that these positive changes keep driving up the standard of early education across the country.

The VCS grants will be targeted at improving outcomes for children most at risk of falling behind by the age of five, and will increase the support for young children with special education needs.

The Department for Education has also confirmed the Hungry Little Minds website – an online tool for parents and carers that includes tips to support children aged 0 to five with their learning at home – will be zero-rated by the major mobile providers, meaning that parents won’t use up their mobile data allowance if they browse the site from their smartphone.

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said:

Nurseries, childminders and pre-schools have remained open to many children throughout the pandemic, providing reassurance and continuity to the youngest children during an uncertain time. The early years of a child’s education are crucial and it is vital now more than ever that we work with the sector and with parents to get children back on track.

That is why we are working with early years organisations as part of a wider effort to make sure no child falls behind, partnering with experts to help them catch up from any time missed in their formal education. We’re also making it easier for parents, no matter their background or income level, to access online resources that help them to support their children’s learning at home.

The reforms to the Early Years Foundation Stage follow the Government’s commitment to improve the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) in response to the Primary Assessment consultation in September 2017.

This consultation response confirms that local authorities will no longer be required to externally moderate the EYFS Profile within schools when the measures become statutory from September 2021, reducing the burden on teachers to gather extensive evidence of a pupil’s development and allowing them to spend more time interacting with pupils. It builds on pilot findings published last year, where teachers found changes largely positive, with feedback that it helped focus on stories, group work and discussion, inspiring pupils to be more imaginative and improving their language skills. The improvements also resulted in a reduction in paperwork which lead to a better focus on supporting their pupils’ education.

Reception classes have been invited to bring in the EYFS reforms a year early if appropriate, marking a further step in cutting teacher workload and boosting early language development.

Professor Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, said:

The Chartered College of Teaching welcomes these reforms. It is vital that teachers and early years colleagues are free to spend the majority of their time focussing on leading learning rather than constantly tracking and monitoring progress for external moderation purposes.

Dr Julian Grenier, Headteacher at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre, said:

I think it’s important for the sector to take hold of the opportunities these reforms offer us. Reducing the workload around the EYFS Profile will enable practitioners to focus their assessment work where it’s most needed. That’s for children in danger of falling behind the majority, and children who may have barriers to their learning.

This is an opportunity for schools to think about their early years curriculum, and what they want children to learn, experience and enjoy, rather than focusing on assessment data. The key to giving children better and more equal life-chances is to strengthen the profession in the early years. I hope that colleagues will seize this opportunity to put less emphasis on generating ‘data’ on more on developing a stronger and better-trained workforce.

Tiffnie Harris, primary specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

We support this new approach to early learning because it will remove the administrative burden of external moderation and give our fantastic early years teachers more time to interact with children. Early years education is so important for future outcomes, and it is a key to narrowing the attainment gap between rich and poor. We very much welcome the focus on this vital phase.

Jan Dubiel, specialist in Early Childhood Education, said:

Recent events have been a stark reminder of how unpredictable the world can be. As educators and policy makers concerned with early years care and education, we have a duty to ensure that we are preparing children to be knowledgeable, skilled, resilient and creative to manage and succeed in the future that they will face.

We are all committed to providing the most effective and up to date provision for children that will ensure this. The review of the Statutory Educational Programmes, Early Learning Goals and EYFS Profile provides us with a timely opportunity to reflect on, update and refine key aspects of the EYFS.

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