Experts recruited to advise DfE on early years apps

Panel will identify which apps are effective at helping preschoolers to learn

boy on phone

The government has set up a new advisory panel to assess high-quality apps that help early years children to learn.

Jackie Marsh, professor of education at Sheffield University, will chair the panel, with other members drawn from charities, academia and technology companies.

Education secretary Damian Hinds has pledged to halve the number of children who finish the Reception year without the speaking or reading skills expected for their age, and has said that free mobile phone apps could be a vital part of helping with this.

The panel will assess existing apps and produce tips and guidance for parents on how to use apps to aid children’s learning.

Recent DfE research discovered that more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of 0- to 5-year-olds use digital devices at home, with 65 per cent of children using them to learn the alphabet, to spell or to recognise words.

Professor Marsh said: “Young children are immersed in a digital world from their earliest years and have access to many apps on tablets and smartphones.

“There is a need to identify the features of high-quality apps that support their learning and to offer parents, carers and teachers guidance on how to select and use apps effectively.”

'Kickstarting early development'

The announcement came as business representatives joined a roundtable discussion chaired by Nadhim Zahawi, children and families minister, to discuss how to help parents provide learning opportunities for preschool children at home.

Businesses already pledging to help include: shoe shop Clarks, where 6,500 staff will be trained in children’s speech, language and communication development, WH Smiths which is supporting literacy programmes in Swindon, and book publishers Harper Collins and Penguin Random House.

Mr Zahawi said: “By working with a growing number of businesses, charities and experts, we’re making it easier for parents to kickstart this early development – helping to take forward our national mission to boost children’s early development.

"New projects are being set up all over the country and our expert panel will create trusted tools that parents can be confident using, so that every child develops the skills they need to thrive.”

The new advisory panel will consist of:

  • Professor Jackie Marsh (chair): Professor of education at the University of Sheffield.
  • Olivia Dickinson (deputy chair): Digital consultant specialising in children’s and educational digital media.
  • Peter Robinson: Global head of research and company director of Dubit Limited, specialising in digital entertainment and education for children.
  • Antonio Gould: Executive director of Teach Monster Games, a not-for-profit education technology company responsible for the ‘Teach Your Monster To Read’ app.
  • Dr Rosie Flewitt: Co-head of research, Department of Learning and Leadership at the UCL Institute of Education and co-director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy.
  • Sandra Mathers: a former primary teacher and now senior researcher at the University of Oxford.
  • Jonathan Douglas: director of the National Literacy Trust.
  • Jane Lewis: Head of programme development and quality at Save the Children UK. 

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