Sheffield and Doncaster children set to benefit from free education apps
Disadvantaged South Yorkshire children will be given free access to educational apps to improve early learning at home and use screen time constructively.
The Department for Education will buy subscriptions to "high-quality early learning apps" for disadvantaged families with children aged between two and four in 12 pilot areas across the country.
Nearly 6,000 families in the north of England and up to 375 schools and nurseries will take part in four new programmes to provide practical tools and advice on early education.
This includes the Parent Child Home Programme, which will see experts visit families in Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley twice a week for 15 months to demonstrate different reading, conversation and play activities. They will also provide books and educational toys.
The programme will be run by the Family Lives organisation to benefit 320 families with children aged two.
It is hoped that focusing on early learning in the home will enable children to arrive at school ready to learn, a DfE spokeswoman said, adding that, on average, disadvantaged children are four months behind in their overall development at age five.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "Not all screen time is created equal: on one side there are the pressures that come with social media and the time spent looking at a screen, which is a key worry for parents - but on the other, the power of technology and the internet can open up a whole new world when embraced properly.
"But it's also difficult to navigate, and often expensive, so I want to support parents of all backgrounds to feel able to embrace its benefits and use it in a measured, sensible way that helps improve children's early development at home.
"Screens can be an easy distraction for children, but harnessing the power of technology to support early communication and development means that we have another tool in our arsenal to help young kids develop those skills."
An expert panel, headed by Professor Jackie Marsh of the University of Sheffield, was formed in January and will draw up a set of criteria for assessing suitable apps.
It is expected the trial will begin in the next academic year in up to 12 areas across the country which will be selected according to deprivation and levels of child literacy and language skills.
The final cost of the apps trial is not yet known.