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News story

We launch Small Talk project to help parents boost their child’s language skills at home

30 Apr 2019

Dad and young girl playing with bubbles at home

Today we launched Small Talk, a new project to help parents develop the skills and confidence they need to boost their child’s language skills at home, before they start school.

The project comes as latest figures from the Government show that 180,000 five-year-olds started primary school last year without the language, communication and literacy skills they need to learn and flourish [1]. This a gap most children will never recover from and one that negatively impacts their chances of success at school and in life.

In an effort to close this gap, Small Talk will support the language skills of 30,000 children under the age of five by helping parents turn the activities they are already doing with their child into new opportunities to fill their child’s world with words every day.

To help parents embed chat, play and read activities into their daily routines, Small Talk has launched a brand new website ( featuring simple and engaging videos, advice and information.

Over the next year, Small Talk will also provide more targeted support to 2,500 families living in seven communities across England where levels of disadvantage are high and large numbers of children are starting school without the literacy skills expected for their age.

In these seven areas, we will train volunteers from local businesses who will join early years professionals at public events in the places parents are already visiting with their children, such as shopping centres and coffee shops, to show parents short, simple and fun activities they can do at home to build their children’s language.

These events will take place in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Swindon and Peterborough, where an event is taking place today at Barnardo’s First Steps Children’s Centre.

Judith Parke, our Head of the Home Learning Environment, said: “We’re delighted to be launching Small Talk today. When parents are involved in their children’s literacy development it makes a huge difference to their success at school and in later life. Small Talk will help parents turn the daily activities they are already doing with their children into opportunities to build their child’s language skills and give them the foundations for a brighter future.”

Small Talk is funded for 18 months through the Department for Education’s Early Years Disadvantage VCS grant programme for 2018-2020. The grant aims to close the disadvantage gap at the age of five, in line with the Government’s wider ambition to halve the number of five-year-olds starting primary school without the communication, language and literacy skills they need to thrive by 2028.

For more information, head to

We've also launched a new report today in partnership with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy and Oxford University Press, which highlights the crucial link between children’s early language skills and life chances, and calls for sustained government leadership and multi-agency support to unlock vital language, reading and learning opportunities for every child.

The Language unlocks reading report shows that children with poor language and communication skills at age of five are six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English at age 11 and twice as likely to be unemployed aged 34.

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