UK Government launches “society-wide mission” to boost early literacy, communication

by Freya Lucas

July 03

The UK Department for Education has launched a new national campaign, designed to support children’s learning in the home, or through everyday activities such as catching public transport or doing the shopping. 

 

The newly released resources will be applicable to many family activities in Australia, and the ideas presented in the campaign may provide early childhood education and care providers with ides to support early literacy and communication. 

 

Through accessing the range of resources available, the UK Government hopes that families will gain insight as to how to turn everyday activities, such as going to the shops, or playing imaginative games, to improve early literacy and language skills in children in the years before school.

 

A number of initiatives in support of the campaign were launched 2 July by UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds, namely: 

 

  • a new three year ‘Hungry Little Minds’ campaign to give parents access to video tips, advice and suggested games to help with early learning;

 

  • up to 1,800 new school-based nursery places, to be created in disadvantaged areas so more children can access high-quality early education, backed by a £22 million investment; and,

 

  • a range of criteria for assessing and selecting high quality educational apps which parents can use with their children to promote interactive learning and play. 

 

The campaign comes as research in the UK reveals that while the percentage of children reaching a good level of development by the end of Reception has increased from 51.7 per cent to 71.5 per cent since 2013, more than one in four children still leaves the early learning years without the key communication skills they need to thrive. 

 

Given the UK Reception year primarily focuses on children aged four and five years of age, the results appear to correlate with the most recent Australian Early Development Census (AEDC)  results, which found that one in five Australian children begin school developmentally vulnerable in one or more domains, with that figure rising to two in five for First Nations children. 

 

Again mirroring the Australian AEDC findings, the UK research behind the campaign revealed that although these vulnerabilities occur in all income groups, affected children are disproportionately from the lowest-income families.

 

The Hungry Little Minds campaign will tackle the barriers some parents face in supporting their child’s learning at home, including time, confidence and ideas of things to do.

 

The campaign builds on work by the Department for Education and the National Literacy Trust to bring together a coalition of businesses and organisations, including the LEGO Group, Penguin Random House, Arriva and the Greggs Foundation, who are supporting parents to play a bigger role in their child’s early education.

 

Mr Hinds noted that, as with parents the world over, mothers and fathers in the UK want to give their child the best start in life but “not everyone has family support at hand and there is no manual telling us how to do everything right”.

 

Part of making sure children have the best opportunities to “take advantage of all the joys of childhood and growing up” is to support them to develop the language and communication skills they need to express themselves, Mr Hinds said, adding “sadly, too many children are starting school without these – and all too often, if there’s a gap at the very start of school, it tends to persist, and grow.”

 

He believes the only way to combat this issue is “through a relentless focus on improving early communication”. 

 

Visiting Dunraven School in Streatham, South London, to launch the campaign, the Education Secretary met families already benefiting from new early learning content created by the LEGO Group and EasyPeasy. He joined them for a Stay and Play session, where parents and children can take part in learning activities together, getting advice and tips throughout.

 

The Hungry Little Minds campaign forms part of increased efforts from businesses, charities, and early years groups, backed by government investment, to build on the work to provide expert support and targeted intervention to disadvantaged families all over the country. 

 

Founder and CEO of EasyPeasy Jen Lexmond noted the importance of the early years in forming a strong foundation for future life success, saying “85 per cent of a child’s brain is developed by age five, which shows just how important the early years are.” 

 

She welcomed the Department for Education’s campaign for its role in highlighting how regular everyday moments can be opportunities for learning, long before children start their first day at school. 

 

The campaign is part of a larger suite of seven early learning projects, announced in November last year, to make sure children from the most challenging backgrounds are not left behind by empowering parents to contribute to their child’s early education. 

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