Ministers will recruit hundreds of schools and nurseries to take part in trial programmes aimed at aiding home learning for pupils.
The Department for Education has revealed that 375 schools and early years settings will be recruited for four new programmes which will provide “practical tools and advice” for nearly 6,000 parents in the north of England.
The trials, to be run by the Education Endowment Foundation and Shine Trust, are part of a wider drive by ministers to improve the home learning environment.
Schools Week revealed last month that the government plans to assess and “quality-mark” smartphone and tablet education apps for younger children, and may extend the process to technology for older pupils.
Today, the DfE announced it would go further, buying subscriptions to those early learning apps deemed to be “high-quality”. They will then be provided free of charge to disadvantaged families with children aged two to four, in up to 12 pilot areas.
“Not all screen time is created equal,” said Damian Hinds, the education secretary, who launched the pilots today.
“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 and use it in a measured, sensible way that helps improve children’s early development at home.
“Screens can be an easy distraction for children, but harnessing the power of technology to support early communication and development means that we have another tool in our arsenal to help young kids develop those skills.”
The four trials being launched with the help of schools include Making-It-REAL, a National Children’s Bureau programme that trains early years professionals to visit families at home. It aims to get parents “more involved in drawing, singing songs and counting with their children”. It will be rolled out to 960 families with pupils at 120 schools.
Then there’s Group Triple P (Positive Parenting Program), in which trained experts show parents how to improve their children’s language, and social and emotional development through “role play, homework exercises and video clips of positive parenting techniques”. This will extend to 1,800 families in the north west, and across 150 schools and nurseries.
The Parent Child Home Programme will see trained experts visit families in Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley twice a week for 15 months, demonstrating different reading, conversation and play activities. This programme will be run by Family Lives and 320 families will take part.
Finally, Tips by Text will offer parents of four and five-year-olds three texts each week to encourage activities that “help develop literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional skills, such as counting the number of plates on the table”. More than 2,700 families from 105 schools in the north east will be involved.