Blog from our CEO: New government set on extending its free childcare offer.

Blog by I CAN’s CEO, Virginia Beardshaw.

There’s been lots of focus on children’s early years pre and post election. The new government is set on extending its free childcare offer for poor families, as a way of getting more parents into work. This is a key plank of the new government’s policy for addressing poverty and disadvantage.

So far so good, as long as these free childcare places are fully funded. But childcare needs a focus on quality as well as cost if it is to lift the next generation out of poverty. And quality means a hefty emphasis on children’s speech and language development.

Under one in five young children in England fail to reach expected communication and language levels by the age of five. For children from disadvantaged backgrounds the figure is one in four. Studies show that 40-50% of children growing up in disadvantaged areas start school with delayed language.

If we are really to tackle disadvantage we must address the pernicious gap in children’s language development. Children with poor language are on the back foot from day one when they start at school.

The Department for Education funded the Early Language Development Programme (ELDP), led by I CAN, it has played a key role in supporting local areas. Over three years it has successfully reached and trained over 15,000 practitioners working with children aged 0-3 and over 150,000 families in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas. By training local staff to deliver training in settings and to families, the ELDP builds local capacity for supporting young children’s early language.

The impact of the programme is lasting change to practice in early-years settings and, crucially, indicates positive impacts on children’s language.

Delayed language is an epidemic; the impacts on our children are life-long. Poor language skills affect the children and their families. Given the importance of communication skills in today’s workplace, it damages the UK economy too. We simply can’t afford to limit children’s life chances in this way.

I CAN will do everything it can to ensure that a focus on language development and ensuring high quality early education and childcare is built into the government’s early years programme.

Read more about I CAN’s Early Years 0-5 offer or find out more about the Early Language and Development Programme.