Early Words Together - National Literacy Trust

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years 

Organisation submitting example

National Literacy Trust

Local authority/local area:

13 Local Authortiies across different regions

Summary

Early Words Together, formally Literacy Champions, is a targeted National Literacy Trust programme that aims to develop young children’s communication, language and literacy and enable family engagement through the support of peer volunteers.

1. Context and Rationale

In 2008, the National Literacy Trust undertook a review of research into the role of families and the home environment in developing children’s literacy skills. The following key findings have informed our focus for partnerships with communities and local areas:

Families: parental involvement is a more powerful force for academic success than other family background variables.

Early years: the earlier parents become involved in their children’s literacy practices, the more profound the results and longer-lasting the effects.

The home: parents have the greatest influence on the achievement of young people by supporting learning in the home rather than in school.

Role models: even at age 16 parental interest in a child’s reading is the single greatest predictor of achievement.

Disadvantage: rates of low literacy are highest in disadvantaged communities and low literacy is a barrier to social mobility.

In 2009, the National Literacy Trust received funding from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the Department for Education) to work with local authorities to improve literacy levels by developing community-wide partnerships focused on literacy. This work was underpinned by knowledge of the importance of the home learning environment and focused on extending literacy support to vulnerable families by involving a greater range of partners.

In some areas, consultation with families raised concerns that suitable support was not available or, where it was, it was considered too formal, too intimidating and too hard to access. The consultation highlighted that community-based provision was needed, offering peer support on an informal and one-to-one basis. In response, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council developed a Literacy Champions training programme for frontline workers and volunteers to ensure that literacy support reached the individuals and communities in most need. With the support of the National Literacy Trust the Literacy Champions programme in Rochdale has been replicated across a number of local authorities and adapted to local needs, effectively filling gaps in local support for literacy.

In 2011 the National Literacy Trust drew on the training and expertise developed in Rochdale to develop a peer support project specifically focussed on early intervention and the support of families with children aged two to five. The programme was delivered to over 2,000 families with over 600 volunteers between 2011 and 2013, across 25 local authorities or organisations. Internal evaluation demonstrated positive outcomes including:

• 72% of parents reporting an increase in children’s enjoyment of books
“My child now really enjoys reading stories with me and it is the project that has given him that enthusiasm.”

• An increase in children’s basic literacy skills. 81% of parents reported that their child was now more able to listen and join in with stories. Two months after the families’ time with their volunteer, practitioners reported that nearly half (46%) had improved from emergent o expected levels in terms of their speaking and listening skills. 52% improved from emergent to expected levels in terms of their engagement with books and stories.

• An improvement in children’s early literacy behaviours, with 55% of parents reporting and increase in how often their child asked to hear a story.

• An increase in parents’ awareness of the importance of their role in supporting their children’s literacy (the home learning environment). 75% of parents reported an increase in their awareness pf sharing books with their child. 80% of parents reported an increase in their awareness of the importance of talking with their child.
“It has made a lot of difference because I now have a better understanding of how to support my child at home – I can be like his teacher!”

• Improved parental confidence in their ability to support their children’s literacy and learning. 88% of parents reported an increase in confidence in sharing books with their child, 77% reported an increase in their confidence in talking with their child, and 83% reported an increase in their confidence in visiting the library.
• Increased parental engagement in supporting their children’s literacy development, with 53% of parents reporting an increase in the number of time per week that they share books with their child.

Despite these benefits, it was identified that delivery settings were less able to target the programme to those with the greatest need than originally anticipated. A survey by The Children’s Society found that four in ten parents had never used a children’s centre because they had not heard of the service and almost three quarters of parents were not aware of the services offered by their local centre .

In 2013, the National Literacy Trust was granted two years of funding through the Department for Education National Prospectus Grants to take the project forward. Renamed Early Words Together, the programme seeks to address the issues identified in earlier delivery by bringing together local partners and services to identify and support families in improving the home learning environment for two to five year olds.

2. The practice

About the Early Words Together programme

Between April 2013 and March 2015 the NLT received funding from the Department for Education (DfE) to deliver Early Words Together in 12 local authorities across England. One further authority, Bradford, was recruited to the programme in April 2014. An average of 120 children’s centres and settings delivered the programme.
Early Words Together has two main components:

• The identification, referral and signposting of targeted families by local authority multi-agency teams and other community partners
• Volunteer-led engagement and learning activities with families in early education settings

The identification, referral and signposting of families

During 2013, the National Literacy Trust explored critical indicators that demonstrate the quality and impact of home learning. These indicators drew primarily on research around the home learning environment and its impact on early years communication, language and literacy . The National Literacy Trust also conducted research of parents of three to five year olds to explore what they do to support their children’s literacy development in the home . From these combined findings, the National Literacy Trust identified three early home learning indicators that were shown to be associated with greater cognitive abilities later in life:

• The frequency of book sharing in the home
• The frequency of songs and rhymes sung in the home
• The quantity of books in the home, either owned or borrowed

The National Literacy Trust developed the programme framework, resources and training and worked closely with five local authorities to shape the programme and approach. These authorities, who formed a reference group, were London Borough of Croydon, Derbyshire County Council, Middlesbrough Council, Rochdale Metropolitan District Council, and Sheffield City Council.

Potential referral and signposting partners who could extend children’s centres’ reach to target families were identified by the reference group (see Figure 1 below) and supported through workshops across the 12 delivery areas to understand the importance of the home learning environment and tasked with promoting the programme to the families they connected with using the early home learning indicators.

Figure 1. Early Words Together referral partners

[INSERT DIAGRAM]

A central coordinator was identified from each partner local authority. They identified around 10 children’s centres per area to deliver the programme. The National Literacy Trust trained coordinators and children’s centre staff in the delivery of the programme, in targeting families using the early home learning indicators and in recruiting, training and managing volunteers.

Volunteer-led engagement and learning activities

Early Words Together is delivered to targeted families with children aged two to five through small group sessions of one and a half hours, once a week for six weeks, within a children’s centre or early learning environment.

Delivery partners identify volunteers from their own service users, from links with other services such as family learning, from local colleges, and from the wider community in conversation with local volunteering agencies or community organisations. Training is cascaded to volunteers locally, giving them the skills and confidence to support families to:

• Understand why they are important to their child’s reading and language development
• Adopt effective activities to enrich their play, engagement and attachment with their child
• Increase their child’s literacy, communication and language development through integrating simple activities into daily life

The programme is informed by research. Activities are structured around the seven areas identified within the EPPE research as effective home learning activities:

• Sharing books and stories
• Singing songs and rhymes
• Playing with other children
• Playing with letters and sounds
• Painting and drawing
• Visiting the library
• Going out on trips and exploring the environment

A volunteer toolkit provides guidance on effective activities while encouraging volunteers to tailor sessions to meet the particular needs of families and interests of the child. The importance of parent/child interaction and developing strong speaking and listening skills underpins all activities. In the DfE funded programme, families are also helped by children’s centre staff and volunteers to choose three books from an age-appropriate reading list. These books are theirs to keep and take home, along with a memory book and family resource booklet that has more ideas and suggestions for activities that can be continued at home.

Setting staff debrief with volunteers after each sessions to encourage reflection, address any concerns and to provide support with planning for the next session. Staff are encouraged to provide opportunities for volunteers to share their practice and learning with each other. For example, an area-wide peer learning event can create opportunities for volunteers to give short presentations, furthering their skills development. All staff are encouraged to consider progression opportunities for volunteers. In areas of delivery this has included employment within the setting or support into further learning and development.

Training, resources and support

During the DfE funded period the National Literacy Trust provided:
• Training and guidance for delivery partners
• A training plan, presentation and activities for cascading training to volunteers
• Programme resources (volunteer toolkit, memory booklet for children and family resource book) for up to 200 families and 60 volunteers
• Training and promotional films
• Templates for posters and leaflets, plus postcards for referrers, sign-posters and families
• Access to the coordinator zone of the National Literacy Trust’s website – an online community for early years settings and schools with programme resources, tools, advice and support
• Access to National Literacy Trust staff support during implementation, including regular emails, telephone support, good practice forums and sharing
• Evaluation tools to support tracking and evidence of impact
• External evaluation of both children and families as well as views of local authority staff (see section 3 below)

Resources from the DfE funded pilot stage are available to download from the National Literacy Trust website under Open Government Licence. Printed copies of the latest versions which have been further developed and improved based on user feedback, are available with the new package of resources and training (see costs below).

Partnership involvement

Two external evaluators were appointed:
1. Coventry University to look at the impact of the intervention on children, families and the home learning environment in the 12 local authorities (using the Pearson Pre-school Language Scale), interviews and surveys with families
2. OPM to consider the impact on children’s centre practice, referral working, wider local authority practice and the role of volunteers

While children’s centres were initially targeted as the lead delivery partners, a variety of settings were involved with delivering Early Words Together, including schools, libraries and community centres. This was partly to engage and attract the target families but also as between 2013-15 there was considerable restructuring of early years and children’s centres across most of the local authorities.

Postcards were designed by the National Literacy Trust to remind multi-agency professionals of the early home learning indicators within their informal conversations with families. The referral process included a simple invitation form where families could be invited to attend, containing minimal information, including age of child and contact details for the children’s centre lead to hold following data protection procedures.
Timescales

DfE funding ended in March 2015. To support the sustainability of the programme, the National Literacy Trust has developed an Early Words Together package that can be commissioned or purchased by other local authorities or charities. We will also continue to fundraise to deliver the programme in particular areas/ settings of need.

3. Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Measure of success

Coventry University analysed data from all delivery areas, excluding Bradford who joined the programme in the second year. Six areas were selected for closer analysis which included interviews and focus groups with families. These were selected to represent a variety of local authorities in terms of size, urban/rural, outside London, etc. and included Croydon, North Yorkshire, Rochdale, Wiltshire, Sutton and Lambeth. OPM surveyed all 12 areas and looked in detail at delivery in Croydon, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Sutton and Wiltshire.

Coventry University undertook a standardised assessment of the language/ early literacy skills of children using the receptive language subscale of the Pearson Preschool Language Scales. This assessment was first conducted before the child took part in the programme and then three months later.

The evaluation has shown that Early Words Together:

• Significantly improved children’s understanding of spoken language. At pre-test, the average performance of the children assessed was 77.1, indicating that the majority of children assessed were underperforming on their understanding of spoken language relative to where they should be for their age. This in itself suggests that the programme was generally reaching the right families.

Three months later these children’s average score had increased to 82.9 – an increase of over five standardised score points, indicating that the children’s vocabulary levels were developing faster than we would predict from normal maturation (i.e. they were catching up with peers). This puts the average post-test performance of the children sampled just short of the normal range.

This improvement is both statistically significant (p=.0062 ) and educationally meaningful. When we look at the number of children in the normal range at each time point, 30.5% of the children were in the normal range at pre-test, and this increased to 43.1% of the same children just three months later. This impact was particularly pronounced for girls who participated in the programme. That is, when we look at the impact of the programme on the language comprehension scores of girls and boys who participated, we see that the boys’ scores increased modestly from 76.2 to 78.9. The girls showed an increase from 78.6 to 89.6 - a change of 11 standardised score points in around four and a half months.

115 children were assessed at pre-test and 72 were assessed at post-test (37.4% attrition from study over three months).

Not only were children’s verbal skills significantly improved but Early Words Together also:

• Significantly improved children’s enjoyment of sharing books overall (increase from 72.1% to 87.1% of families reporting good levels of enjoyment). The impact is particularly significant for target families, where 76.7% more parents reported that their child enjoyed sharing books at the end of the programme.

“He does now, but he didn’t before, he will bring a book and say ‘Mummy read’. It has really boosted that desire to read.” Parent, Rochdale

• Significantly improved children’s enjoyment of joining in with songs and rhymes (increase from 75.5% to 88.3% of families reporting good levels of enjoyment). Again, the impact was particularly significant for target families, where 77.7% more parents reported that their child enjoyed joining in with songs and rhymes at the end of the programme.

• Increased the amount of parent-child talk in 88.1% of target families and increased parents’ understanding of the importance of talking to children (68.5% of target families).

“I have become a lot calmer, I have a better understanding, I don’t rush X into explanations, I give him a chance to process his words now and actually tell me what he is wanting.” Parent, North Yorkshire

• Increased parents’ confidence in sharing books with their children (78.3% of target families) and in singing with their children (57.6% of target families).

“I have learnt lots of tips from my volunteer about reading with my son and interacting with my son. I find it difficult before.” Parent

• Impacted the quality of children’s home learning environment through significantly increasing the frequency of book sharing (91.3% improvement in target families) and joining in with songs and rhymes (85% improvement in target families), and by increasing the likelihood of families buying or borrowing books (89.9% improvement in target families).

“I needed help as a parent, and found that help with the sessions and the volunteers, I am feeling confident and happy.” Parent, Croydon
• Impacted children’s school readiness through spontaneously-reported improvements in reading-related behaviours (45%), social / emotional skills (51.9%) and children’s language and communication abilities (22.3%).

“We have learnt to communicate more and I treat him more as a little person who knows a lot rather than a little person who doesn’t know anything.” Parent

There appeared to be a particular appreciation of Early Words Together from parents and children who were from English as an additional language (EAL) homes. There were 18 spontaneous references to the benefits of the programme for such families included in the open ended responses to questions in the toolkits, and EAL parents who were interviewed also mentioned the benefits of their children being able to speak English, share English books and learn English rhymes.

“When she is at home with me, she is by herself, she goes to nursery now, she comes back speaking more confident in English, as we speak Chinese at home. Now she is half and half. Before the centre she couldn’t speak and get friends. More confident, so she can do things for herself.” Parent, Croydon

Parents also mentioned that engaging with Early Words Together now meant they were attending other courses at their children’s centre.

“After Early Words Together, I went on the EAL course.” Parent, Croydon
“I am doing maths and English with the children’s centre.” Parents, Wiltshire

In addition to these early findings, Early Words Together has also been referenced in Ofsted reports:

“Early Words’ sessions effectively help parents support their children’s communication and language development. The sessions are particularly effective for Portuguese and other groups who speak English as an additional language”.
Lambeth Ofsted inspection, Stockwell Children’s Centre, July 2014

“Volunteering opportunities at the Centre have enabled family members to build their confidence and progress into training and eventual employment”. Darnall Children’s Centre, OFSTED Report February 2014

Evidence collected

Coventry University analysed 776 toolkits capturing parental feedback, and held interviews and focus groups with 106 families. Local authorities collected case studies.

OPM’s evaluation comprised:
• A series of initial scoping interviews with stakeholders to help them understand the programme and localities’ initial experience of implementation;
• A Year One online survey of 89 local authority stakeholders (April-May 2014);
• A follow-up Year Two online survey of 132 local authority stakeholders (February-March 2015);
• A series of depth interviews with stakeholders in five of the 13 project areas (Croydon, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Sutton and Wiltshire);
• An analysis of project costs incurred by local authorities.

Organisational change

The evaluation report from OPM found:
• Early Words Together (EWT) has been very positively received by local authority stakeholders in areas where the programme has operated during 2014-15. The targets it set for participating areas – including volunteers trained, families recruited and sessions run – created some anxiety and frustration early on, but the central programme team, local co-ordinators and settings worked hard to meet those targets.

In spite of the pressure to achieve ambitious results, the overall response to the programme from staff and volunteers in settings has been enthusiastic and their belief in its impact strongly evident. They have felt the programme to be a good use of their time, impactful for settings, volunteers and – in particular – families.

• Programme management and resources: Positivity was high in relation to management of the programme and the materials provided, with nine out of ten local stakeholder survey respondents judging the range of free books excellent or good (91.5%). At least seven out of ten were also positive about the ordering and delivery of free books (72.4%); the volunteer training (70.3%); and the volunteer toolkit (70.2%).

• Recruiting families to participate: The programme aimed to engage 2000 families in total. With 1,846 participating by January 2015 (and 2,114 families recruited in total) that target was achieved. The type of families recruited was also a focus of attention for the programme, with criteria established to ensure an emphasis on the most in need.

Two thirds of survey respondents (67%) believe the programme has enabled them to increase their contact with families who are not regular service users, and over half (55.9%) believe the programme has generated new contact with families previously unknown to or not accessing children’s centre services.

That not all respondents were confident of these impacts suggests that some participating families were in some cases already known to settings. This was reflected in case study interviews, where it was clear that participating families were sometimes outside the strict criteria for inclusion – either to help achieve target numbers, to involve families with literacy needs who it was judged would benefit, or in order to reach and impact on target families more subtly through positioning EWT as a more universal offer.

Local authorities were creative in engaging families:
• In Bristol they worked with very vulnerable families who needed a prior relationship to build trust.
• In Sutton they only recruited families from the borough’s 30% most deprived Super Output Areas.
• In Lambeth they worked with their Social Care team to identify and engage very disadvantaged families, plus they worked with large numbers of families with English as an additional language.
• Rochdale focussed on low income families; the unemployed; BME and single parent families.
• Sheffield worked with the drug and rehabilitation team to engage families that were transitioning from that programme. Barriers to engagement were relapse or children being taken into care. Through volunteers they also engaged families from the Roma/Slovak communities, unemployed white working class families and teenage mums.

“Families with more issues are using Early Words Together as a way of solving some of their problems…parents who have never been read to are now using and enjoying books with their children.” Sheffield coordinator

• Recruiting volunteers to support: The programme over-achieved against its targets in terms of volunteer recruitment. Just as family recruitment was a challenge for some areas and some settings, so volunteer recruitment proved challenging for others. Around half of respondents (52.2%) thought the programme had enabled them to grow the pool of volunteers available to support local families.

As the case study interviews highlighted, volunteers were recruited in a range of ways and from a variety of backgrounds. It was widely agreed that the demands on EWT volunteers were higher than for most programmes, and that this raised the bar in terms of what was required from those volunteering. For some co-ordinators and children’s centre staff, this meant that confident and professionally experienced volunteers were better suited to the role, whilst others took the opposite view and favoured peers from within parents’ own communities.

• Engaging referral partners: The most persistently challenging aspect of engagement has been in relation to partner organisations, and in particular those which it was hoped would refer families into the programme. Just under half of survey respondents (47%) thought that the programme had increased the number of partner agencies who understood the importance of home learning environments. Both the survey and case study interviews showed this to be the area which settings most struggled with across the participating authorities.

Whilst there were some good examples of partner relationships being forged through the programme and of key partners being ‘won over’ by the programme’s potential to help their service users, overall partner engagement remained lower than intended. The case study interviews have nonetheless highlighted some very positive examples of the programme building strong support amongst local partner organisations, and of EWT acting as a vehicle for forging closer working relationships with partners.

• Impact on children, families and home learning environments: Local stakeholders show high levels of confidence in the programme’s positive impact on children, families and home learning environments. Around nine out of ten agreed with the statements that: Early Words Together has had a positive impact on raising the confidence of parents to support children’s communication, language and literacy (94.7%); that the programme had a positive impact on improving children’s communication, language and literacy (90.5%); and that families’ home learning environments had improved (89.3%).

Interviewees emphasised how parents’ confidence, skills and understanding had grown through the course of the programme, and evidence that children’s experiences of play and learning at home were changing. Children’s centres are also seeing parents engaged through EWT remaining involved in other children’s centre projects and activities – 9 out of 10 survey respondents felt that the programme had helped to enable parents or other family members to get involved in a children’s centre project (89.4%).

• Impact on volunteers: Confidence in the programme’s impact on the skills and capacity of volunteers is high – eight out of ten survey respondents (80.9%) thought that EWT had developed volunteers’ skills. Through case study interviews, volunteers themselves reiterated the valuable experience the programme had provided, whether in terms of skills and confidence beneficial to work or study, or to their own parenting. The National Literacy Trust’s own survey of volunteers corroborates this picture, with almost all respondents (96.5%) satisfied with their volunteering experience overall, and more than eight out of ten (84.4%) satisfied that they had impacted positively on families.

Case study interviewees highlighted the benefits to children’s centres in terms of an increased volunteer resource for them to mobilise beyond the life of EWT specifically. In fact, this process of EWT volunteers migrating into other volunteering activities within children’s centres or related services is already evident. Some co-ordinators have also reported that volunteers have gone on to gain employment directly as a result of experience gained through volunteering with EWT.

• Impact on children’s centres: Three quarters of survey respondents (75.5%) reported that EWT had a positive impact on the skills and /or confidence of children’s centre staff to engage with families most in need of support with early learning at home. Children’s centre managers often encouraged colleagues to involve themselves in the programme as a route to developing their professional practice.

Some managers have also seen EWT as a useful vehicle for helping less confident staff learn how to engage with families and build stronger relationships with them. In addition, case study interviewees described how the programme had built the capacity of their volunteers – volunteers who in some cases were becoming involved in other children’s centre activities.

“We had members of staff who were quite quiet and needed help engaging with parents... Early Words Together gave them a focus for their conversations with parents. They were worrying initially... but really enjoyed getting to know a family in depth.” Children’s Centre Manager

Behavioural change

“I would recommend it to everybody – my child’s speech has come along a lot.” Parent

“We now enjoy reading different books and communicating better. I learnt the importance of speaking with my daughter.” Parent

“This programme is helping parents break down those barriers about what school is, their own negative experience, and to become engaged with us.”
Local authority coordinator

“This intervention has worked really well and children entered nursery with good personal and social skills and have made good relationships with peers and adults. Good communication and language skills have been demonstrated for most children and an appreciation for books, including the handling of books has been observed. Children have come into nursery knowing and joining in with nursery rhymes and showed an awareness of rhyme and rhythm.

“The intervention has been successful and should continue as a way of readying children for nursery but also for the sharing of information, allowing us to target the needs and abilities of all children but especially our vulnerable children and families.”
Nursery Teacher, Hemlington Hall Academy

Benefits

Initial research findings indicate that Early Words Together is successfully bringing about the following benefits:
• Improving children’s school readiness
• Enhancing multi-agency working
• Extending outreach and skills development in children’s centres

Wood, C, Vardy, E, and Tarczynski-Bowles, l (2015)
Final Report: Early Words Together: Impact on Families and Children. Coventry: Coventry University.
http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0002/6473/EWT_Final_Report-Impact_on_families_and_children.pdf

Francis, R and Sayer, L (2015)
Early Words Together: Local authority evaluation. London: OPM.
http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0002/6820/OPM_EWT_Local_Authority_Evaluation.pdf

4. Sustaining and replicating your practice

Barriers/Challenges

Mitigation/Solutions

During 2014 and 2015 there was considerable restructure and reorganisation within children’s centres in all the partner local authorities. This reduced capacity, focus and motivation while staff turnover meant trained staff were lost.

The delivery timeframe and targets were ambitious and pressured.

We encouraged centres and local authorities to train more staff than needed. We also extended delivery to schools and community centres (such as women’s refuges; refugee centres and mosques) to reach families when local centres were closed.

Engaging local partners and services helped to reach enough target families. Families also started to refer friends and neighbours.

Local partners could be slow to start referrals, even when multi-agency teams were initially enthusiastic, as the programme could be perceived as a threat to established practice.

 

It became more effective to conduct multi-agency referral training once the programme had already been set up in a centre, to enable referrers to be able to signpost families in the immediate future.

It was critical to emphasise goals and opportunities for mutual benefit and outcomes at an early stage.

We encouraged ongoing engagement between referral partners and the centre delivering the programme, particularly health partners. This often became an opportunity to engage with teams or services that had not always worked with centres in the past.

Areas which provided regular feedback to referrers of the progress of their families, encouraged repeat referrals.

Programme information ensured opportunities for referrals within existing systems, such as the 2 year review, are embedded in delivery.

In some areas, volunteer recruitment and clearance was time consuming and caused delays in delivery.

This was worsened in areas where children’s centres had very little experience of working with volunteers and were anxious about managing them.

Some local authority policies required advanced level training courses be completed before volunteers could start the programme. This could deter volunteers and was extra administration for children centre staff.

This took patience, support and commitment on behalf of the local authority partners. Approaches to volunteer recruitment varied widely and included:

  • recruiting from pools of existing children’s centre, school and nursery volunteers
  • engaging local students in childcare courses
  • recruiting from wider volunteer networks via the local authority (and in at least one case, the local authority’s own staff volunteering scheme) or  third sector children’s centre provider such as 4Children or local church groups
  • promoting the programme with local community groups and organisations and from the immediate local community
  • advertising within schools, family information services, organisations representing targeted communities and across local authorities
  • the most successful areas used a combination of these strategies, especially

 

Regular attendance or retention of families could be an issue in some areas, particularly where families with complex needs were less familiar with the setting or unknown to staff.

 

Gaining referrals from professionals with trusted relationships with families and involving them in initial introductions to the setting, or reminders, helped to maintain attendance.

The relationship between the volunteer and the family was a key factor to encourage informal learning and engagement of the family.

Careful matching of families to volunteers, and recruiting a mix of families to the session to enable positive group dynamics, with some families with more stable lifestyles, could help to provide consistent attendance and model interaction for families with complex needs.

Costs

DfE funded the two year pilot work with a grant of £940,000. This included design, delivery and evaluation and grants to local partners to assist coordination and reporting.

Going forward, the programme is available in 2015 at a cost of £3,500 for up to 4 settings and 100 families (with resources for 50 volunteers). Within that cost, the National Literacy Trust provides one day training, including volunteer training decks, and all programme resources for delivery. The price also includes one year’s membership of the National Literacy Trust’s Network – an online improvement network for early years settings and schools with tools, advice and support and access to discounted book purchase. National Literacy Trust staff provide desk support during implementation and evaluation tools to support tracking and impact.

Potential savings

The evaluation has identified an impact on children’s language and communication and an improvement in home learning environments. We therefore expect savings to be achieved in schools as a child that has completed Early Words Together will be more school ready around communication and language and more able to concentrate.

The programme is also beneficial as a parent engagement programme by engaging parents in school activity in a non-threatening way. It allows teachers to develop a rapport with families and engage them in their child’s learning.

More generally, the programme has been seen as a very helpful addition for children’s centres as it supports a centre to change the way it works by directly addressing Ofsted requirements:

• Helps parents and carers to develop and extend their parenting skills – Early Words Together supports parents to become interested in and know how to effectively encourage and stimulate their child’s learning and development
• Provides a structured scheme for parental engagement with children’s centres, adult learning, volunteer opportunities and preparation for work
• Addressing early help – this programme encourages co-working with other agencies to identify families who would most benefit from early help. It also supports children’s centres in providing targeted support
• Supporting school readiness – this programme directly supports a child’s early communication, language and literacy, and through improved home learning may increase a child’s attainment in the long-term

Tips

Must dos for the intervention

  • Siting the programme within education or children’s services with strong management links to early years settings and schools was a critical factor to engage children’s centres and facilitate regular delivery within the core programme
  • Establishing close links with adult education, employability teams and/or family learning was helpful to increase both volunteer and family recruitment and enable capacity building

Commissioning or senior management support to raise the priority of the programme to schools, children’s services and multi-agency partners, and champion it as a key action within literacy/school readiness/parental engagement strategies

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