From education to employment

New training for experts to tackle early communication difficulties in young children

Families with children who would benefit from additional help with their early speech and communication skills will have access to family reading sessions, local parenting pop ups and improved training for early years professionals, as part of a £6.5million investment so children have the language skills needed to thrive at school. 

One of the local projects will introduce an easy to use online tool that informs parents of the basic child development stages, offering ideas for activities to do at home and signposting to further information and resources.

Supporting families in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, experts such as health visitors, early years staff and family support workers will be trained to identify children with poor language and communication skills and to make sure the right support is in place so they don’t fall behind. 

Last year the Education Secretary set an ambition to halve the proportion of children that finished Reception without the communication, language and literacy skills needed to thrive within the next decade. On average, disadvantaged children are four months behind at age five. That grows by an additional six months by the age of 11, and a further nine months by the age of 16.

Building on successful programmes already in place, the eight projects will cover 27 local councils which will share expertise and resources, bring education and health services closer together to help improve children’s outcomes by age five.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

“Ask any parent and they want their child to have the best start in life. But we know that those from a disadvantaged background often start school already behind when it comes to communication and language development.

“This multimillion pound investment will provide better support to families in some of the most deprived areas of the country. No one is born knowing how to be a mum or a dad and parenting does not come with a manual, I want to support families with hints and tips to propel their child’s learning so they can go on to reach their full potential, whatever their background. 

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Councils are absolutely determined to make sure that children get the best start in life, and it’s positive that some areas will receive funding to provide additional support to families and improve children’s early communication skills.

“Focussing on key early language and literacy skills is really important in making sure that all children can begin school ready to thrive.

“The LGA is already helping councils through an early years peer review programme of sector-led support which will share and promote good practice and knowledge across local government, and we look forward to continuing our work with the Department to build on that.”

The projects aim to improve the language and communications skills of children from birth to five years old, as children who start school behind often struggle to catch up. Programmes will be targeted at disadvantaged areas including three of the government’s 12 Opportunity Areas Doncaster, Derby and Stoke-On-Trent, providing parent-child workshops and outreach programmes to raise awareness amongst parents of the importance of speech, language and communication development.

The eight projects will create tools and techniques, including closer collaboration between education and health services, that will have lasting impact for children today and for future generations.

They include:

  • Leicester City (with Derby City and Nottingham City) will improve access to early years support so that all disadvantaged families receive the same services across the region by reviewing and sharing best practice on the speech, language and communication initiatives that already exist.
  • Wolverhampton (Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall) will work with the National Literacy Trust to engage a range of professionals including early years teachers, health visitors and speech therapist to introduce pop up sessions for parents and creates an early years vision to best support children in areas where literacy is low. The council will also introduce an online tool to inform parents of the different child development stages and provide tips and tools to use at home.  
  • Staffordshire (with Stoke-on-Trent) will scale-up successful early learning projects in Stoke and Staffordshire, including the Speak Out project which will train and support parents, carers and staff to make early communication development a priority. The councils will also work with the National Literacy Trust to offer free advice and information to help parents incorporate ‘Chat, Play and Read’ activities into their everyday life. 
  • Luton will build on its successful ‘Flying Start’ programme that gives parents support from pregnancy to their child’s fifth birthday, prioritising children’s communication and language skills. Through workshops and information packs for families, the project aims to create better educational outcomes for young children resulting in improved employment opportunities in the future.
  • Doncaster (with Barnsley, Rotherham, Sheffield) will tackle delays in early communication skills across areas with high numbers of disadvantaged families by making the same early services accessible in all four councils so no family misses out. Councils will work on a collaborative early years vision, which will include plans to train more staff and improve data sharing so the specific needs of every child is met.   
  • Halton will introduce family reading sessions and will set up the ‘TALK Halton’ to assess 2-4 year olds using a screening toolkit to identify early language needs, and reduce the number of referrals to speech and language therapists by age five. The project will provide a range of workshops and training courses led by specialist to provide the best support for families. 
  • Salford (with the 9 other Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) LAs) will combine expertise across 10 local authorities to support children who are most at risk of falling behind in their early learning. It will implement a range of ways to ensure every child has the maximum chance of being school ready, including speech and language programmes. 
  • Swindon (with Gloucestershire) will support children who are at risk of or display early signs of difficulty in language development through evidence-based early learning interventions, such as the Peep Learning Together Programme which helps parents make the most of everyday learning opportunities like listening, talking and playing.

The funding is part of the Department for Education’s £8.5m early years local government programme which is improving how local services work together to improve early language, communication and speech outcomes.

This follows an announcement in February that 1,000 health visitors would be trained to identify children’s early language and communication needs, beginning with 400 in areas of high need – and today the government confirmed a second wave of training for an additional 600 health visitors will be rolled out nationally from May, offering places to all local authorities, with priority given to the most disadvantaged areas.

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