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Education secretary pledges support for early language development

By Rachel Lawler
baby with book early reading skills
Education secretary Damian Hinds has promised to halve the number of children starting school without expected levels of early reading and speaking skills within the next decade.
“It is a persistent scandal that we have children starting school not able to communicate in full sentences, not able to read simple words,” Hinds said in a speech at the Resolution Foundation this morning.
Early literacy gap
Hinds said that the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is a particular concern in the early years because as children “rarely catch up”. He said: “Your peers don’t wait, the gap just widens. This has a huge impact on social mobility.”
The minister is now planning to form a “coalition” of businesses, charities and tech companies to encourage parents to read with their children, starting with a summit due to be held later this year.
Children's centres
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “We have always said that parents are their children’s primary educators and so the education secretary is right to highlight the importance of the home learning environment in improving social mobility in the early years. Unfortunately, the government’s actions to date on this simply haven’t matched its rhetoric, and it is incredibly disappointing that a speech about this important issue failed to highlight to the role of one of the most crucial sources of early and family support: children’s centres.
“If it is the case, as Mr Hinds argues, that many parents would benefit from ‘extra support and advice’ in encouraging the development of their children’s early communication skills, why has the government all but abandon its children’s centre policy? It’s now three years since the Department for Education promised – but failed to deliver – a review into the future of these vital services and in the time since, many have been forced to close their doors as a result of sustained funding cuts.
“If the government is truly committed to ‘closing the gap’, it should stopping dragging its feet, and confirm exactly how it plans to safeguard the future of children’s centres and ensure that those families that need it most have access to the early support services that they need.”
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