Health visitors to be trained to recognise early speech issues

Health visitors will receive additional training to identify speech, language and communication needs of children early on, with a new assessment and support package.

Specialist training will be provided for 1,000 health visitors who will work in some of the most deprived communities in England, as part of the government’s drive to tackle the gap in communication skills between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi announced £24 million of additional funding for the 2019-20 academic year for Maintained Nursery Schools, providing reassurance for these settings which tend to care for higher numbers of disadvantaged children, often most at risk of falling behind.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "Being able to communicate and express yourself is the gateway to success, not just in school but in later life. It’s these crucial early years that make the most impact on a child’s future path – because for those children who start out behind their peers, it’s so much harder to catch up.

"The evidence tells us that we need to improve children’s communication and language before they arrive at school, when so much of a child’s time is spent at home, to help get them on track to be confident, able learners.

"If we are to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children, we must think about how we can do things differently – including through parents. No parent has all the answers – so we need to make it easier for them to kickstart their child’s learning at the earliest opportunity, whether by encouraging them to take part in educational activities as a family, support from trained experts at home to identify concerns earlier, or better access to high-quality early years education.

Children who start school with poor vocabulary are twice as likely to be unemployed as an adult, so health visitors will be trained to recognise early signs of delays with a child’s speech and language development and take action when it can have the most benefit.

The programme, lead by the Department for Education and Public Health England, will benefit thousands of families across the country, with a focus on parents who may lack the time, resources, or confidence to support their children’s learning at home.

It builds on the Education Secretary Damian Hinds’ aim to halve the proportion of children leaving Reception year without the communication, language and literacy skills needed to thrive within the next decade.

The first wave of training will involve 400 health visitors in 49 council areas identified as being in high need, based on deprivation factors including free school meal eligibility and the level achieved in speech, language and communication among children aged five in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile. The next wave will train a further 600 health visitors from 2020 onwards.

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