Call for Northern focus in multi-million pound early years intervention, Yorkshire higher education chiefs urges the Government

Higher education leaders in Yorkshire have called for the most disadvantaged pupils across the region and the UK to be prioritised in the Government’s early years multi-million support package to help close the covid language gap.

The Department of Education announced today £9m will be made available for reception-age children to boost speaking and language skills among young pupils whose education has been disrupted by Covid-19 at a crucial time for their development. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The call to action comes after the Department of Education announced today £9m will be made available for reception-age children to boost speaking and language skills among young pupils whose education has been disrupted by Covid-19 at a crucial time for their development.

The programme, known as the Nuffield Early Language Intervention, will provide schools with training and resources, helping them deliver one-to-one and small-group support for five-year-olds whose spoken language skills may have suffered as a result of the pandemic.

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Samantha Twiselton, deputy for the Doncaster opportunity area, one of three Yorkshire opportunity areas, alongside Bradford and the North Yorkshire Coast, said a concerted effort was needed to prioritise the most disadvantaged pupils particularly those in northern schools, to tackle an education system that has been beset with inequalities based on region.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “I absolutely think more of the £9m should be distributed across the North - the opportunity areas are only ever small regional examples of poverty and disadvantage which is much more widespread in Yorkshire and the North than opportunity areas in the South.

“It sounds like a lot of money... But I can’t see how this can be a comprehensive offer that gets to every child who really needs it. We want it targeted on the children and the areas that need it the most.”

The investment is part of the National Tutoring Programme, a key plank of the Government’s £1bn Covid catch-up package announced in June and schools are being urged to sign up for an early years ‘catch up’ programme.

Anne Marie Canning MBE, the chair for the Bradford opportunity area, stressed the need for priority to be given to schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils.

Pictured, Anne Marie Canning MBE, the chair for the Bradford opportunity area. Photo credit: Bradford opportunity area.

"I would like to see is a real focus on the implementation. It is absolutely vital we get these programmes into the communities that need it the most and working really effectively," she told The Yorkshire Post.

Ms Canning, 34, who was previously the director of social mobility and student success at King’s College London, added: "The money will be spread very thinly by the time it is allocated out across the country... so it should be focused on the children that we know need it the most and also the areas of the country that are going to have the biggest challenge in terms of catching up."

The investment is part of the National Tutoring Programme, a key plank of the Government’s £1bn Covid catch-up package announced in June and schools are being urged to sign up for an early years ‘catch up’ programme.

Alongside this, the Department of Education confirmed supplementary funding over £23m for Maintained Nursery Schools for the summer term 2021.

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said: "Nurseries and other early years settings have played a huge part in keeping our youngest children safe and supported throughout the pandemic, but too many children have missed out on education at a crucial point in their development.

"Ahead of every pupil returning to the classroom full-time in September, we’re increasing the support available to get them back on track and ready to learn.

"We cannot afford for our youngest children to lose out, which is why this package of support is focused on improving early language skills for the Reception children who need it most, and especially those whose long-term outcomes who have been affected by time out of education."

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “The Nuffield Early Language Intervention has been proven effective at improving children’s language skills, which are essential for building the foundations of literacy and learning. It is necessary now more than ever, as schools try to help pupils most at risk of falling behind.

Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, added: "Whether or not a child learns to communicate effectively at a young age directly impacts their life chances.

"Our trials have shown the Nuffield Early Language Intervention to be a low-cost way to boost young children’s speaking and listening skills. The proven strength of its impact makes it an exciting prospect to support young children whose language skills have been most affected by school and nursery closures."

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