Council efforts to boost young children's literacy to be peer reviewed

By Tristan Donovan

| 30 April 2018

Local authorities can bid for a share of £8.5 million to review and improve the early language and literacy support they provide for disadvantaged children.

A series of peer reviews will identify best practice in supporting children to learn to read in the early years

The money, announced by Education Secretary Damian Hinds, will fund the Early Years Social Mobility Peer Review programme that will be led by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The programme, first revealed in the government's social mobility action plan last December, will see local authorities carry out peer reviews on one another to identify ways to enhance the early language and literacy skills of the poorest children.

The LGA expects to hold pilot peer reviews this summer ahead of the full programme starting in the autumn. The programme is likely to follow a similar model to the LGA's Corporate Peer Challenge Programme.

Where deficiencies in support are identified, funding will be available to improve services, the Department for Education has 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," said councillor Roy Perry, vice chairman of the LGA's children and young people board.

"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 the key early language and literacy skills, so that all children can begin school ready to thrive."

Hinds also announced the DfE is giving £5m to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to trial new ways to give parents extra support with developing the language and communication skills of their children.

"It is important that parents and families can feel confident about supporting their children so they can start school with the appropriate level of language and social skills," he said.

"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 EEF will use the money to trial projects in the north of England that explore how best to support parents to improve their children's communications skills before they begin school.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance said the money wouldn't be necessary if children's centres had not been starved of funding.

"The fact is that these parents should already have access to professional support of this kind in the form of children's centres," said Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance.

"That some parents are unable to get this support is a result of years of indifference towards children's 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 focused 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."

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