By Jennifer McKiernan, Press Association Political Staff
More than a quarter of children starting primary school lack basic literacy skills, new research shows.
Communication skills such as being able to talk about events in the past or future were missing in 28% of four- and five-year-olds.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has now pledged to halve the number of children starting school without the early speaking and reading skills they need by 2028.
In his first major speech on social mobility, Mr 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.”
Children with poor vocabulary at age five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed at age 34 as children with good vocabulary.
Mr Hinds will say the home learning environment is “the last taboo” as he announces an education summit this autumn to encourage more parents to read and learn new words with their children.
Helping parents and giving them the confidence to work with their children on speech and language has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to build the foundations for a successful education.
The education summit will include businesses and broadcasters and aims to explore innovative ways to boost early language development and reading in the home.
“I particularly want us to be harnessing the power of technology,” Mr Hinds 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.”
Tuesday’s announcement builds on the £20 million announced to narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers and to provide practical tools and advice to parents so they can help their children learn new words through simple 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.
But Labour said inequality had worsened under the Tories, with the most vulnerable children worst affected.
Its analysis of Department for Education statistics showed the maths attainment gap between children in care and their peers has risen from 23% to 29% in maths at Key Stage 1 since 2010, while in reading it has gone up from 23% to 25% and in writing from 27% to 29%.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “These damning figures show that under this government inequality in our schools is rising; despite all their rhetoric on social mobility, the Tories are simply entrenching inequality.
“The measure of our education system should be the support that it offers to the most vulnerable children, and the steps we take to level the playing field between them and their more affluent peers. Quite simply, the Conservatives are failing this test.
“The next Labour government will invest in a National Education Service, giving every child the support they need and the opportunity to succeed, in a country for the many, not the few.”
CBI head of education and skills John Cope said education and skills remain the number one domestic policy concern for firms.
He said: “The Education Secretary is right to identify early language development as vital for improving social justice.
“Business wholeheartedly supports efforts to increase speaking and reading skills in early years given the impact not doing so can have later in life.
“The CBI looks forward to working alongside the Government – and others – to play our part helping increase opportunity for everyone.”
Asked if the term “home learning environment” was code for blaming parents, Mr Hinds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No, it absolutely isn’t.
“Look, social mobility is central to what we do at the Department for Education and it’s self-evident that people’s destinations in life shouldn’t be pre-determined.”
He added: “So although it is a difficult area, because nobody wants to be interfering with what happens in the bringing up of children, of course not and rightly so, but actually I find that parents tend to welcome support – just witness the pile of books that you see in many people’s houses on bringing up children.”
Mr Hinds said tech and apps could be part of the approach and could “complement” learning.
Asked about cuts to Sure Start budgets, he said: “No, no, no, we’re putting more money into early years and childcare, making sure that for the first time disadvantaged two-year-olds are able to get 15 hours of nursery care. There are around 3,000 Sure Start locations altogether.”
He went on: “I think politicians are right to be cautious about this and that’s why the approach that we are setting out today is about bringing together organisations.
“In the end, the evidence does bring you to those earliest years and does bring you to the home learning environment and to be really serious about tackling social mobility, yes, we have to take these things on.”