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Number of pupils starting school unable to read 'to be halved'

Damian Hinds wants parents to boost children's reading and speaking skills by 2028

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Damian Hinds wants parents to boost children's reading and speaking skills by 2028

The government has pledged to halve the number of children who start school without the speaking or reading skills they need, by 2028.

Education secretary Damian Hinds is set to announce the target this morning at an event held in central London, in his first speech on social mobility since taking office in January.

More than a quarter of four- and five-year-olds (28 per cent) lack the early communication and literacy skills expected by the end of Reception year, according to Department for Education statistics

In a bid to halve this figure over 10 years, Mr Hinds will form a new "coalition" of businesses, charities, tech companies and media groups, to encourage more parents to read and learn new words with their children. 

The coalition, which includes the National Literacy Trust and Public Health England, will hold a summit this Autumn aimed at coming up with practical ideas that boost parents’ confidence with supporting their child’s language and literacy from an early age.

These could be modelled on awareness-raising campaigns like the "5-a-day" public health message that encouraged more people to eat fruit and vegetables.

Education secretary Damian Hinds is expected to say: “It is a persistent scandal that we have children starting school not able to communicate in full sentences, not able to read simple words.

“This matters – because when you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up...your peers don’t wait...the gap just widens… This has a huge impact on social mobility… 

“And the truth is that the vast majority of these children’s time is at home."

He will say he has "no interest in lecturing parents", but that "doesn’t mean extra support and advice can’t be helpful".

Mr Hinds hopes that technology will play a part. He will say: "Whilst there are legitimate worries about screen time, media and modern technology can also help to raise awareness and build parents’ confidence around what they can do to help their child’s early language development."

The DfE declined to say whether there would be any extra money to support the new pledge.

However, it follows the announcement of £20 million to narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers and to provide practical tools and advice to parents to help their children learn new words through steps like reading and singing nursery rhymes.

This includes a £5 million trial, run by the Education Endowment Foundation in the North of England, £6.5 million for voluntary and community group projects, and £8.5 million for local councils to improve early language and literacy for disadvantaged children.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:  "We know that what happens before school starts has a profound impact on a young person's academic attainment later in life. The minister is absolutely right to set an ambitious target for closing the early literacy gap by focusing on the home learning environment.   

"While achieving this won't be easy, we know that all parents care about the future of their children. However, it can sometimes be difficult to get them involved in their child’s learning and we know little about how to do this well.

"The EEF is testing different ways of tackling the early literacy gap. This should give us much-needed information about how we can give parents the tools they need to give their child the very best start in life.”

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