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BBC to 'close social mobility gap' with focus on literacy for under-5s

Article By: Michaela Chirgwin

The director of BBC Radio and Education, James Purnell, has announced the BBC are to focus their educational offerings around 'closing the social mobility gap' in the UK. Under-fives, in particular, are to be targeted by the BBC, with the aim of improved literacy rates for children starting school.

Credit: Evgeny Atamanenko/ The BBC has already consulted extensively with stakeholders in education and business to identify key areas to reduce inequality.

One of the ways they plan to narrow the gap is to ‘get them when they’re young’, putting under-fives and literacy under the spotlight.

In tune with current thinking at the Department for Education (DfE), the BBC are working to raise the communication and literacy skills of a million under-fives to give them ‘the best possible start to their education’.

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, says: “We know that children from the poorest homes fall behind form the earliest stages of learning. By the time school starts their language skills can be months behind their classmates, a gap that only widens throughout school.

“So, it is good the BBC’s education strategy is focused on raising the communication and literacy skills of disadvantaged under-fives. Getting it right for this group could make a big difference to social mobility, by improving their chances at school and in later life.”

The National Literacy Trust has been brought in by the BBC to help engage under-5s and get them ready for reception. Their director, Jonathan Douglas, said: “The National Literacy Trust is thrilled that it will be working in partnership with the BBC to close this gap. The BBC has the unique ability to engage the people who can make the biggest difference to early language development - parents and families.

“More early communication with babies and young children will develop the early language and literacy skills which are the foundations of educational attainment, employability and wellbeing.”

One in five children starting school in England don't meet the minimum language skill requirements set by the Department of Education (DfE), according to the National Literacy Trust. The new educational direction of the BBC arrives ‘hot on the heels’ of January’s controversial ‘Bold Beginnings’ report by Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman.

The report caused consternation within the early years community, who complained that it encouraged the ‘schoolifcation’ of early years learning.

In recent years the DfE has also come under fire for moving towards a more traditional learning trajectory with an increased focus on subjects such as literacy and mathematics.

Social mobility too has been a key concern for the current Government.

In January 2018, Damian Hinds was brought in as the new Education Secretary. His previous role was as employment minister at the Department of Work and Pensions where he sat on the well-publicised All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility.

There is much expectation from the education sector about what he is going to do to try to reduce the social mobility gap.

Sinead Rock, director of education at the BBC said: “In an age where education is widely recognised to be the most significant element in determining life chances, we want to work with a wide range of partners to see how, together, we can make a significant impact on the lives of our audience.”


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