Revealed: 12 areas to get free early-learning apps

Tech firms invited to put forward apps for DfE expert panel approval

early years app

The 12 areas where disadvantaged families will get free high-quality apps for early learning have been announced by the Department for Education.

Tech firms are being invited to submit their educational apps to a government-appointed expert panel for approval. Those that meet the criteria will be provided with a government quality mark.


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Two of the successful apps will then be offered free of charge to disadvantaged two- to four-year-olds in the 12 areas (listed below) as part of a pilot project.

“Digital technology means there is a wealth of fun activities at parents’ fingertips, but the content of these is important too,” Kemi Badenoch, children and families minister, said.

"That’s why we want to help parents make confident, informed choices about the resources they use, so they can help inspire a love of learning in their children.”

The government initiative is designed to help encourage parents to help boost their pre-school children’s communication skills at home, as part of an ambition to halve the proportion of children leaving Reception year without the speaking or reading skills they need by 2028.

The expert panel was set up earlier this year to draw up a set of criteria against which the quality of apps could be judged – excellent quality apps will be ones that foster play and creativity, which have multiple levels of challenge that are personalised to the child and include a diversity of characters.

Families in the following areas will benefit from the apps pilot free of charge from next year:

  • Middlesbrough
  • Oldham
  • Halton
  • Stoke-on-Trent
  • Sandwell
  • Leicester
  • Enfield
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Brent
  • Peterborough 
  • Luton
  • Plymouth 

These areas were chosen based on factors including the proportion of children achieving below the expected level of development in communication, language and literacy at age 5 and levels of deprivation.

The DfE will also ask a research organisation to test the take-up and usage of apps in the pilot areas and later ask another research organisation to carry out an assessment to see what role the apps have on a child’s educational attainment.

The news comes after the Department for Education launched a three-year behaviour change campaign called Hungry Little Minds, giving parents access to video tips, advice and suggested games to help with early learning.

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