The Sound Start Plan

An exciting opportunity to create a world first and achieve lasting gains in the lives of our youngest citizens …

Two BBC digital radio formats are proposed for closure [6 Music and the Asian Network] at an annual saving of £21m plus.

The BBC Trust has criticised BBC children’s radio provision and called for ‘practical partnerships’ to help reduce a deficit of up to £235 million.

Language deficit and delay is on the rise in UK children, which can seriously disrupt their social and educational development.

Daily radio can help.

Taken together these create a timely opportunity to develop a new network of children’s leisure and learning – providing the ideal catalyst for useful partnership with the BBC.

‘Sound Start’ has been designed by a group of prominent educators as a radio-led pilot study to assess how a dedicated radio service can help balance the prevalent screen and key-board culture and support, promote and enhance children’s development – with particular regard to encouraging their listening and language skills.

The Bercow Review made 40 recommendations for improvement in children’s communication for which £52m has been allocated to the Speech, Language and Communication Needs [SLCN] Action Plan including ‘Every Child a Talker’ and the National Year of Speech, Language & Communication in 2011-12. Radio has a key role to play.

Sir Jim Rose highlighted the impact of “language poverty” in his Primary Curriculum Review and this year the ‘Learning to Talk’ survey, commissioned by new Communications Champion, Mrs Jean Gross, produced similar findings.

Operating as a not-for-profit public/private partnership the service will:

  • use the unique medium of radio, broadcasting into homes, nursery settings and schools, to support and enrich key aspects of children’s early development including listening, imagination, concentration, communication, language acquisition and social, physical and emotional growth
  • work in partnership with parents and the growing network of early years provision, to promote high quality learning through music & movement, stories, songs and rhymes, together with family guidance and information
  • operate as an open-learning resource, with dedicated faculties for music, literature, arts, health and wellbeing
  • broadcast predominantly in English, and thus have world-wide relevance
  • recognise and respect all established faiths, celebrate diverse cultures and include integrated multicultural strands
  • deliver supporting publications, a complementary World Wide Web service and audio on demand
  • support children with special educational or social needs, including children with particular talents
  • promote listening and language skills in all children and support those with SLCN
  • support families learning English as an additional language
  • support home-schooled children and young carers
  • support those marginalised families in isolated rural and deprived inner city areas who may find it hard to access services
  • encourage and improve basic literacy and mathematics in adults who are struggling.
  • inform parents and carers of their social and legal responsibilities and rights

The service will be structured to encourage the child’s natural propensity to discover and learn through play: reinforcing the key aspects of development, for which radio can provide unique support.

Sound Start would support and enrich the growing network of maintained and private, voluntary and independent early years provision, including the Sure Start Children’s Centres, which now number over 3,500.

Sound Start would work hand-in-hand with family and child serving organisations in the UK, including The Parenting Academy, The National Children’s Bureau, the Children’s Commissioner; The Voices Foundation; National Youth Music; The Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists; BAECE; The National Literacy Trust; Book Trust; I CAN; The Reading Agency; Every Child a Talker; Every Child a Reader; Open Eye; local libraries, the Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Steiner School networks and similar bodies throughout the world.

Sound Start would provide a long-term and sustainable resource for children, families and early-years staff in every community. Programming of the service would be overseen by qualified professionals in child care and education and produced and delivered by professional broadcasters.

The 2005 – 06 per capita spend in the UK for a pre-school child was £4,645*. A dedicated radio network could be added for less than £2 per annum per child.


During the House of Lords debate on services for children and families, led by Baroness Massey, the Sound Start blue-print was proposed by Lady Warnock as a desirable factor in the Government’s Communications Action Plan [Hansard – May14th 2009]

Mori 2001- 57% of the population prefered a radio network for pre- and primary school aged children over any of the five new BBC formats

‘Sound Start’ is the working title for the initiative

Appendix 1 – Relevant research and action

  • Vacated networks on the BBC multiplex [6 Music and
  • Asian Network]
  • Speech, Language & Communication Needs [SLCN] Action Plan – DCSF, DfH
  • National Year of Speech, Language & Communication 2011 – DCSF, DfH
  • ‘Learning to Talk’ – YouGov poll for Communications Champion, Jean Gross
  • Digital Britain and Digital Forum – Lord Carter, DCMS, public responses
  • BBC Trust’s Review of Children’s Services and demand for Practical Partnerships to reduce PSB deficit – BBC, DCMS
  • BBC Executive – admission of failing children’s radio services
  • Government and industry requirement to drive DAB awareness and sales into homes, the workplace and motor vehicles
  • The Bercow Report – Language and Communication
  • Early Years Foundation Stage [EYFS] Review – Sue Ellis, DCSF
  • Primary Curriculum Review – Language poverty, Sir Jim Rose, DCSF
  • Mastering English – Overall one in 30 primaries have more than 70 per cent of youngsters with a foreign language as their mother tongue.           
  • Damning condemnation of the “Skills For Life” adult ­literacy programme run by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills  –  House of Commons Public Acc­ounts Committee, Chair – Edward Leigh
  • Change4Life – Combating Obesity – DfH
  • Every Child Matters – DCFS 

SS: 09/04/10 [Edited from version 11/02/09]
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