UK to Spend £9 Million on Language Catch-Up Package for 4-Year-Olds

August 24, 2020 Updated: August 24, 2020

British 4- and 5-year-olds whose spoken language skills may have suffered during the CCP virus pandemic can get extra small-group and one-to-one language tuition as part of a multi-million-pound funding package, the government announced on Monday.

The announcement comes amid concerns that some young children may have fallen behind with spoken language skills, creating inequalities with their peers and prejudicing their prospects later in life.

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said in a statement that, because of the widespread closure of schools and nurseries as part of efforts to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, many children had missed out on education at “a crucial point in their development.”

“Research shows that children who start school with poor vocabulary are twice as likely to be unemployed as an adult,” the Department for Education said in a statement, adding that the new 9-million-pound ($12 million) funding is part of broader 1-billion-pound government scheme to help all children catch up with their education.

Any state-funded primary school with a reception class can apply for the funding, but schools with a higher proportion of disadvantaged children will be prioritized, the government said.

“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 have been affected by time out of education,” Ford said.

Language Boost

The short spoken language catch-up sessions will be available from January 2021 under a 20-week Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) program to be delivered by trained teaching assistants or early years educators.

The results released in May of an independent large-scale trial of the NELI program involving 193 schools showed it effectively boosts language skills in 4- and 5-year-olds by about 3 months.

“School closures are likely to mean those children and young people who were already struggling, fall further behind,” said professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which carried out the trial and is working with the government to deliver the program.

“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,” she said.

The first half of the NELI program focuses on vocabulary and listening skills with youngsters creating, re-telling, and summing up stories orally, while the second part of the program helps them recognize and use spoken language sounds, rhyming words, and syllables.

An independent evaluation of the EEF trial also found the program helped boost the language skills of children with English as an additional language.

School Reopening

The support package comes at a time when Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled that all UK schools should re-open in September, a decision backed by scientific research studies that show the minimal incidence of virus transmission in schools.

“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,” Ford said.

The wider government package also includes funding for state primary and secondary schools “in recognition that all young people have lost time in education as a result of the pandemic, regardless of their income or background,” the government said.