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Government will text parents to ‘count plates’ to improve children’s learning

The Department for Education will run trials designed to improve learning skills in children from poor backgrounds

The government will send three texts a week to parents hit by austerity with tips on how to help their children learn.

Nearly 3,000 disadvantaged families in the north east of England will be targeted by the eight-month Department for Education trial set up to close the attainment gap.

Children from poorer backgrounds are, on average, four months behind their wealthier peers in overall development at five years of age. By the time they are sitting their GCSEs, that lag in attainment has soared to 19 months, according to the department.

Parents of four and five-year-olds will be ‘nudged’ three times a week by texts about activities for literacy and numeracy, “such as counting the number of plates on the table”.

Education secretary Damian Hinds also announced that parents will be given access to early learning apps chosen by panel of experts and bought by the government.

He said: “No parent has all of the answers. Our children are growing up in a constantly changing world and it is hard to keep up.

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“And when it comes to children and technology – that’s where a manual can be helpful. Not all screen time is created equal: on one side there are the pressures that come with social media and the time spent looking at a screen, which is a key worry for parents – but on the other, the power of technology and the internet can open up a whole new world when embraced properly.

“But it’s also difficult to navigate, and often expensive, so I want to support parents of all backgrounds to feel able to embrace its benefits.

“The Home Learning Environment can have a huge impact on a child’s ability to succeed in life, so I want to support families with hints and tips to propel their child’s learning so they are not behind on their first day of school and they can go on to reach their full potential, whatever their background.”

Results of the text and app trials will be compared to the effect of regular home visits by early years development experts. They will visit over 300 families with two-year-olds in South Yorkshire twice a week for 15 months to help parents develop their child’s reading and conversation skills.

‘Ignoring’

The Education Committee recently said the government is ignoring social injustice in the early years system.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Parents want the best for their children, whatever their background or wherever they come from. But it can sometimes be difficult to get parents involved in their child’s learning in practical ways which make a difference and we know little about how to do this well.

“These new trials will give us much needed information about how we can give mums and dads the tools they need to give their child the very best start in life.”

On Wednesday the Resolution Foundation announced that child poverty was on track to hit a record high due to Universal Credit.

Services similar to the government trials have been available from family services like Sure Start in the past, but funding cuts to social care mean an estimated 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres were closed between 2010-2018 leaving many disadvantaged families without support.

And last year Action for Children figures said council budgets for early help services had dropped by £743m in five years.

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