Damian Hinds: 'Technology could help support early development in children'

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Education Secretary has told Julia Hartley-Brewer that technology could be used to help support early development after figures suggest more than a quarter of children starting primary school lack basic literacy skills.

Damian Hinds joined talkRADIO this morning ahead of his speech today on schools and pre-school development.

It was found that communication skills such as being able to talk about events in the past or future were missing in 28% of four- and five-year-olds.

Hinds has now pledged to halve the number of children starting school without the early speaking and reading skills they need by 2028.

Hinds said that there could be a “positive side” to using technology despite fears tablets and mobile phones could hamper children's early development.

“Parents' instincts is to get the absolute best for their children, but no one is born knowing everything there is to bringing up a child, and so, I think it is a good thing in how you give extra help and support,” he said.

“You mention kids sitting in front of gadgets, and there are legitimate worries about screen time and so on, but there could be a positive side to technology as well.

“If you think back to when you and I were children, you know media always played a part in early learning and today that won’t just be telly programmes, but can also be apps that can be used to support early development.”

The education summit will include businesses and broadcasters and aims to explore innovative ways to boost early language development and reading in the home.

The MP for East Hampshire continued: “It’s about helping and supporting parents, I think instinctively parents want help and support.

“I saw a great programme running out of a nursery in Luton recently and parents were coming in with their children and getting extra help.

“It was really liberating to see those children who could communicate their feelings and communicate how they were getting on, and that was really really welcomed by those parents - and it’s about getting extra help.”

Tuesday's announcement builds on the £20 million announced to narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers and to provide practical tools and advice to parents so they can help their children learn new words through simple steps like reading and singing nursery rhymes.

Asked about the gap between the richer and poorer children, Hinds said “these gaps we are talking about, they are not new, and actually the gaps between the rich and poor have been narrowing since 2010.”

“So we have made progress both at school and at the pre-school period in terms of the attainment and the level of development between richer pupils and poorer pupils, what I’m talking about today is going much further, and we are of course spending more money on early years and childcare.”

But Labour said inequality had worsened under the Tories, with the most vulnerable children worst affected.

Its analysis of Department for Education statistics showed the maths attainment gap between children in care and their peers has risen from 23% to 29% in maths at Key Stage 1 since 2010, while in reading it has gone up from 23% to 25% and in writing from 27% to 29%.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: "These damning figures show that under this government inequality in our schools is rising; despite all their rhetoric on social mobility, the Tories are simply entrenching inequality.

"The measure of our education system should be the support that it offers to the most vulnerable children, and the steps we take to level the playing field between them and their more affluent peers. Quite simply, the Conservatives are failing this test.”