Nadhim Zahawi is Minister for Children and Families and is the MP for Stratford-on-Avon.
Any Government has to see enhancing the opportunities of young people as its most important task – and that’s why I’m so proud of the work I’ve been able to contribute to at the Department for Education, as the Children and Families Minister.
I know first-hand the commitment the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Education, and so many of my colleagues have to enhancing life chances. One of the keys to achieving this is improving child literacy, and that’s why our department has been so focused on this challenge.
We have made great progress, but it’s a sad fact that 28 per cent of four- and five-year-olds do not meet the communication and literacy levels expected by the end of their reception year.
It’s an absolute scandal that so many children arrive at school unable to communicate in full sentences or read simple words. This leads to an inevitable early gap in attainment that is so difficult to overcome as time goes on, and can ingrain educational inequality throughout a child’s school career.
This is a challenge that can’t wait until a child reaches school age. That’s why we need to work with parents yes, but also with wider society to support the home learning environment our children grow up in.
It was so disappointing to see the article in the Guardian yesterday deriding this very policy, and the wider aims of our department.
It was based on such old, outdated socialist thinking; that every problem can just be magicked away by the Government alone. Any involvement of any business must just be about cutting costs! What else could they possibly bring to the table? Businesses are just there to be taxed, they’re not part of society or our communities! It’s sad to see such knee-jerk thinking, dismissing the idea of all different types of organisations coming together to do what they can to increase the literacy and communication skills of young children.
Our plan has brought together almost a hundred private sector companies, charities, and public sector organisations, and aims to create a generation of confident children who can read and communicate effectively. We need to reach every part of society to ensure structures are in place to help deliver the results we need.
Anyone who recognises how big a challenge we’re facing, must also recognise the need to get everyone who is willing, to pitch in and help tackle it – rather than sniping at the role of businesses from the sidelines.
The National Literacy Trust believe that up to 7.1 million adults in the UK have very poor literacy skills. If businesses train their adult employees, particularly those who are parents, they can play a key role in boosting literacy and language skills among young children. At the same time staff can be trained to improve their interactions with disadvantaged families, helping parents incorporate better communication into everyday activities.
It’s also wrong to pretend we’re doing nothing else. Last year Damian Hinds announced a £30 million fund to create more nursery places run by successful schools in disadvantaged areas, and another £20 million will be spent on training and professional development for early years staff in disadvantaged areas. These are just two parts of our huge effort to enhance social mobility and deliver a country that works for everyone.
This latest policy isn’t about a Government that is seeking to abdicate its responsibility. We are already doing so much, and we will keep doing more. In reality it is about a Government seeking willing partners, whether they’re charities, public sector organisations or yes, private sector companies.
We can’t afford to let old ideas about public sector good, private sector bad, get in the way. This work is too important.