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Children: Literacy

Question for Department for Education

UIN 176098, tabled on 25 March 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent steps his Department has taken to increase literacy rates for children from low-income households.

Answered on

19 April 2021

The Government is committed to continuing to raise literacy standards, ensuring all children can read fluently and with understanding. The first five years of a child’s life provide a critical opportunity to close development gaps between disadvantaged children and their peers, particularly in Reception year.

Through the Early Years Professional Development Programme, the Department is investing £20 million to provide practitioners in pre-Reception settings with access to high-quality training to raise practitioners’ skills in supporting young children’s development in early language, literacy and mathematics. Improving these skills will drive up quality in the pre-school years, so that more children arrive at Reception year with the foundations in place to make the most of primary school. We have also invested £9 million of National Tutoring Programme funding in improving the language skills of Reception age children who need it most this academic year, through the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI).

In 2018, we launched a £26.3 million English Hubs Programme dedicated to improving the teaching of reading, with a focus on supporting children making the slowest progress in reading, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The 34 English Hubs in the programme are primary schools which are outstanding at teaching early reading. We have since invested a further £17 million in this school to school improvement programme, which focuses on systematic synthetic phonics, early language, and reading for pleasure. Since its launch, the English Hubs Programme has provided appropriate and targeted support to several thousands of schools across England. In this academic year, the programme is providing intensive support to over 875 partner schools.

Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, English Hubs have continued to offer support and training to schools across the country by bringing much of their offer online. This has involved opening up virtual training and professional development events to a wider pool of schools and distributing materials targeted specifically at remote education and recovery. English Hubs have adapted well to providing intensive support remotely and have delivered more than 1,400 days of specialist phonics training to over 875 partner schools so far this academic year. Furthermore, we have worked closely with our English Hubs Programme to support them in guiding their networks of schools through the challenges of school disruption, particularly in promoting the importance of reading among head teachers.

As part of recognising the importance of reading during the disruption to education caused by COVID-19, the Department held a Reading Together Day on 16 July 2020 to celebrate the benefits of reading: As part of this, we have published 10 top tips to help parents support their children to read:

Additionally, the £1 billion catch up package announced in June 2020 included a new £350 million National Tutoring Programme (NTP) which provides additional, targeted support for those children and young people who have been hardest hit from disruption to their education as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The NTP is an ambitious scheme that will increase access to high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged children and young people, helping to accelerate their academic progress and tackling the attainment gap. The programme is intended to support disadvantaged pupils eligible for pupil premium funding. We recognise there are different indicators for disadvantage and teachers and head teachers should exercise professional judgement when identifying which pupils would benefit most from this additional support. The NTP for this academic year comprises of three elements:

  • A tuition programme for 5-16 year olds; schools can access tuition support from approved Tuition Partners and the most disadvantaged schools are supported to employ an ‘in-house’ Academic Mentor to support tuition for their pupils:
  • A 16-19 Tuition Fund; we are providing funding to support small group tuition for 16-19 year olds, in English, mathematics, and other courses where learning has been disrupted as a result of COVID-19: We are asking colleges to prioritise their disadvantaged students who have not achieved a grade 4 in English and/or mathematics.
  • The evidence-based NELI. We have invested £9 million on NELI this academic year to improve the language skills of Reception age children who need it most, providing training and resources free of charge to schools that would particularly benefit. 40% of primary schools signed up for the programme. Priority was given to schools with the highest levels of disadvantage (% pupils eligible for free school meals). In February 2021, we announced plans for the next academic year - a further £8 million for Nuffield Foundation to deliver Reception year early language provision in academic year 2021-2022, enabling the NELI to be offered to many more schools in the next academic year.

Furthermore, to support the hard work of schools in delivering remote education, Oak National Academy was very quickly brought together by over 40 teachers, their schools and other education organisations. The Department has made £4.84 million available for Oak both for the summer term of the academic year 2019-20, and then for the 2020-21 academic year, to provide video lessons in a broad range of subjects, including English, for Reception up to Year 11. Specialist content for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities is also available.