The government aims to increase the literacy of disadvantaged children with two initiatives that aim to help parents “think about how to use children’s screen time constructively, rather than as an easy distraction”.
The first project will see the government provide a selection of families in 12 pilot areas around the country with free subscriptions to educational apps for tablets and smartphones. The Department for Education will choose what it believes are the leading learning apps for children aged two to four.
In another programme of work, Leeds-based charity Education Endowment Foundation will run a series of schemes offering access to educational toys, learning tips via text message, and “parenting group sessions”.
The government will recruit about 375 schools and nurseries across the north of England to take part, with the aim of helping 6,000 families in total.
The ultimate goal is to reduce a gap in educational attainment which, the DfE said, sees disadvantaged children four months behind their peers at the age of five. According to the government, this gap grows to six months by the age of 11, and 19 months by the time children sit their GCSEs.
Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “No parent has all of the answers. Being a parent is like learning to drive: wonderful, full of new discovery, but at times challenging, with plenty of obstacles to swerve. Our children are growing up in a constantly changing world and it is hard to keep up. And when it comes to children and technology – that’s where a manual can be helpful. Not all screen time is created equal: on one side there are the pressures that come with social media and the time spent looking at a screen, which is a key worry for parents – but on the other, the power of technology and the internet can open up a whole new world when embraced properly.”
He added: “But it’s also difficult to navigate, and often expensive, so I want to support parents of all backgrounds to feel able to embrace its benefits and use it in a measured, sensible way that helps improve children’s early development at home. Screens can be an easy distraction for children, but harnessing the power of technology to support early communication and development means that we have another tool in our arsenal to help young kids develop those skills.”
Programmes run by EEF will include group classes for parents in which 1,800 families will work with educational experts, as well as a home-visit programme for 320 families in South Yorkshire and 920 in Greater Manchester. The Tips by Text project will see parents of 2,700 four- and five-year-old children sent three messages each week containing advice on “literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional skills”.