£6.5 million fund to boost social mobility through projects supporting children who need the most help with early language and speech skills.

Parents who need help teaching their children reading, writing and language skills will get practical help such as home visits and online tools thanks to a £6.5 million scheme announced 1st July.

Voluntary and community groups will get a share of the multi-million pound fund to run projects that help disadvantaged families and children with additional needs, building on the free childcare offer already available to the most deprived two-year-olds. These children are more likely to struggle with language and literacy skills when they arrive at primary school than their peers.

Studies have shown that helping parents and giving them the confidence to work with their children on speech and language is one of the most effective ways to ensure children arrive at school with the right foundations for a successful education.

Projects that can bid for the funding could include home visits from trained early years professionals, to help parents support their children in learning new words through simple steps like reading and singing nursery rhymes. Or they could involve easy-to-use online tools that help broaden the vocabulary parents use with their children in these early years.

Research shows that where there is a ‘word gap’ – the gap in communication skills between disadvantaged children and their peers – it can have a long term impact on a child’s education, so projects like these will help close it once and for all.

National voluntary and community groups will also be able to bid for funding to work with disadvantaged communities to encourage families to access the Government’s early education offers for children under five, as evidence shows high-quality early education can have a lasting impact on a child’s future.

Today’s announcement builds on the £13.5 million investment announced in April to improve early language and literacy for disadvantaged children. This includes £5million for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to trial projects that support parents to help their children learn new words, and an £8.5 million programme for local authorities to make improvements in early learning for local communities.

Previous successful bidders from the scheme include the National Literacy Trust, a charity that trains early years staff and volunteers to work with families, building parents’ confidence so that they can support their children’s communication, language and literacy skills at home. The Trust used the grant funding to set up Early Years Together at 2, a programme which invites parents and carers into the nursery to watch how children learn, and gives them practical ideas of how they can continue this learning at home.

Grants have also been issued to the charity Home-Start UK, which works closely with families facing personal difficulties, which can have a negative effect on children’s wellbeing and early development. The charity supports volunteers who work in communities, supporting families suffering from problems such as post-natal depression, physical health problems and bereavement. It received over £400,000 in grant funding to pilot a ‘word pedometer’ programme which provided disadvantaged families with coaching from trained home visiting volunteers, helping new parents increase the number and quality of words they use when interacting with their babies.

Funding will be awarded to organisations that can demonstrate that projects will be self-sustaining, to ensure they will last to support future generations of children.

The Department for Education is working to target resources where they can have the greatest success in helping the early development of children with special educational needs and from disadvantaged backgrounds. The competition opens to bidders from today (1 July).

Winning projects will be announced later this year and go live in October, running until 2020.