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Government social mobility plan prioritises early language

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Thursday, 14 December, 2017

Justine Greening has today launched Unlocking talent, fulfilling potential: a plan for improving social mobility through education.  

The plan includes a mix of new and existing pledges for:

  • £50m funding to develop more high quality school-based nursery provision to increase the number of good early years places for disadvantaged children.
  • £20m offer of school-led professional development for early years practitioners in pre-reception nursery settings (both private and school-based) to support early language and numeracy development. 
  • Expansion of English hubs nationally with a particular focus on reception.
  • £8.5m early years ‘system leadership’ programme to spread best practice on improving outcomes where it is needed most. This sector-led local authority engagement programme will champion joined-up local services to deliver better outcomes for disadvantaged children. This will including support for communities with low take-up of early education, effective use of children’s centres and alignment with local troubled families programmes.
  • A new partnership with Public Health England to enable health visitors and early years educators to identify and support children’s early speech, language and communication needs through training guidance and an enhanced early language assessment tool.
  • A £5m dedicated ‘what works’ fund with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to further enhance the professional development opportunities in the early years and ensure practitioners can identify and make the best use of proven interventions to support disadvantaged children. This fund has been launched today and more information can be found in the fuller guidance note
  • £5m trial in the North of England to identify evidence based approaches to home learning environment programmes that support early language development.
  • Identify and share best practice on what should be taught in reception year. We will work with sector experts to identify examples of best practice and help develop practice on what strong reception year practice looks like.
  • A specific focus on early language and literacy in the £280m Strategic School Improvement Fund and in the £75m Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund.

Early Education's Chief Executive, Beatrice Merrick commented:

There is much to welcome here.  We know that children's early language skills are a key foundational skill, alongside others like self-regulation.  It will be vital that the focus on language is one that runs through a broad and varied early years curriculum, and is not seen as a stand alone - language comes from rich and meaningful experiences, including the specific areas of Expressive Arts & Design and Understanding of the World, and must also be linked to children's thinking and the Characteristics of Effective Learning. 

Justine Greening wisely recognises that there is no "silver bullet", but this wide ranging plan shows the importance of multiple partners including health visitors, early years practitioners and teachers, local authorities and children's centres.  We regret that only a very small part of the funding here is directly targeted on initiatives to improve the home learning environment, which has to be the starting point for action - early education cannot alone be a panacea.  While we recognise that data drives behaviour, we are cautious about proposals for an "enhanced focus on vocabulary development" in the Early Learning Goals. Additional funding for developing the knowledge and skills of early years practitioners is welcome, as is the recognition of the key role of teachers in leading high quality provision - although we are disappointed that the focus is only on schools, and not on increasing graduate led provision in PVIs.  

Notes to editors: 

Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the leading independent national charity for early years practitioners and parents, campaigning for the right of all children to education of the highest quality. Founded in 1923, it has members in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provides a national voice on matters that relate to effective early childhood education and care of young children from birth to eight. The organisation supports the professional development of practitioners through publications, training, conferences, seminars and access to a national and regional branch network. For more information on the work of Early Education visit