Every state school with a reception class in England can apply for training and resources through the Nuffield Early Language Intervention to support pupils with communication skills.
The scheme is part of the Government’s investment to build back better from the pandemic and help tackle children’s lost learning.
It comes after an Ofsted report last year found children falling behinds with their words and numbers, some forgetting how to use a knife and fork or regressing back into nappies during lockdown.
Children and families minister Vicky Ford said speaking and communication skills were “vital” for children and added: “Especially those for whom English is not their first language or who have been more isolated during the pandemic than their peers.”
The minister told the Standard: “It works with children in reception year who have fallen behind on their general language and communication skills.
“Sometimes children are even struggling to know quite common words let alone struggling to hold full sentences and take part in conversations.
“This is a programme that have been developed pre the pandemic which we know works.”
Asked about footballer Marcus Rashford’s recent call on ministers to guarantee free school meals over the summer holidays, Ms Ford said it would be a “fantastic summer” and that the Government had the “most amazing” programme across England.
She added: “We’re running our holiday activities and food programme, which we’ve been piloting for the last three years.
“This is much more than a meal – this is also engaging activities, giving the children a chance to make new friends to learn new skills, to stay engaged in education and that is actually really important because otherwise some of those children’s attainment will fall back again over the long holiday.
“So it’s much much more this project and I know it will be fantastic in terms of helping parents with child care, children being involved in engaging activities, lots of these programmes that also teach children how to cook different things. Which they think is great fun. It’s going to be a fantastic summer of fun.”
Ms Ford made the comments after a visit to All Saints Primary School in Merton yesterday to mark a recruitment drive for the second wave of the programme. All Saints is one of more than 6,600 schools already receiving the intervention.
Also today, a survey carried out by the Early Years Alliance found that half of early years providers think the gap between poorer children and their peers has widened since the start of the pandemic.
Six in 10 said that fewer children across all backgrounds are now reaching expected levels of attainment compared to before the pandemic.
The online survey of more than 1,300 education professionals working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings in England found that 47 per cent believe the attainment gap has grown among under-fives over the course of the pandemic, with 11 per cent describing the gap as “significantly bigger”.
One survey respondent wrote: “Children coming to me for the first time or returning after extended periods with only their parents are clingy, upset and afraid of strangers. They have lost the ability to play independently.
“They are taking a long time to settle away from their parents. Some have returned with very good literacy and numeracy skills but are nowhere near where they should be with personal, social and emotional development, or physical and self-care skills.
“They are lacking in gross motor skills because they have been indoors a lot and some who could put on their own shoes before lockdown have forgotten how.”