Nuffield Early Language Intervention
Update (Aug 2020): The Department for Education is currently working with the EEF and other delivery partners to make Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) available to state-funded primary schools at no cost. This will be funded as part of the Government’s £350m allocation to tutoring, through the £1bn Covid-19 'catch-up' package announced in June 2020. For further information, click here.
This page covers the first (efficacy) trial of Nuffield Early Language Intervention, which tested whether it could work in schools under best possible conditions. To read about the second (effectiveness) trial - testing a scalable model under everyday conditions in a large number of schools - click here.
The Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) is designed to improve listening, narrative and vocabulary skills. Three to five weekly sessions are delivered to small groups of children with relatively poor spoken language skills. The 30-week programme starts in the final term of nursery and continues in reception year. The 20-week programme is delivered in reception only.
Improving spoken language skills in young children around the time that they start school
The Institute for Fiscal Studies
Special Educational Needs
Staff deployment & development
Language and literacy
The attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers opens early and continues throughout schooling. There is a wealth of evidence to show that early intervention has great potential to narrow the gap, but few nursery and reception year programmes have been rigorously tested for impact. This is why the EEF funded the Nuffield Early Language Intervention.
Children receiving the 30-week version (beginning in Nursery, and continuing in early Reception) made about four months of additional progress in language skills compared to children receiving standard provision. The impact of the 20-week version (delivered solely in Reception) was smaller. These impacts on language skills were still seen 6 months after the intervention.
On average, children with better language skills also have better literacy skills, so it might be expected that by improving language skills we can also improve literacy. However, this evaluation provided no reliable evidence that the programme had a positive impact on children’s word-level literacy skills in the short term.
The EEF is funding a further trial of NELI to find out if the results can be replicated when the programme is delivered to a larger number of schools. This will also allow follow up of longer term outcomes.
The Nuffield Early Language Intervention had a positive impact on the language skills of children in the trial. This is true for both the more expensive, 30-week version, starting in nursery, and the 20-week version, delivered only in school.
Children receiving the 30-week version experienced the equivalent of about four months of additional progress, compared with about 2 months additional progress for the 20-week version. Both results are unlikely to have occurred by chance, though results for the 30-week version are more secure.
The evaluation did not provide reliable evidence that either version of the programme had a positive impact on children’s word-level literacy skills.
Teaching assistants delivering the programme reported that they found it difficult to devote enough time to it, and that support from senior staff was required to protect the programme time.
Staff in participating schools reported that the programme had a positive impact on children’s language skills and confidence. They thought that the factors which contributed to this included the small-group format, the activities covered, and the focus on narrative and vocabulary work.
Full project description
The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is designed to improve the spoken language ability of children during the transition from nursery to primary school. It is targeted at children with relatively poor spoken language skills. Three sessions per week are delivered to groups of two to four children starting in the final term of nursery and continuing in the first two terms of reception in primary school. Children in primary school also attend an additional two 15-minute individual sessions per week. All sessions focus on listening, narrative and vocabulary skills. Work on phonological awareness is introduced in the final ten weeks.
The intervention was developed by researchers from the University of York with funding from the Nuffield Foundation. The communications charity I CAN was enlisted to train teaching assistants and nursery staff to deliver the programme. This report evaluates the I CAN-led model for the 30-week programme described above and also a shorter 20-week version delivered only in reception year.
The impact of these two programmes on the language skills of 350 children in 34 schools was tested using a randomised controlled trial design. Schools with attached nursery schools or nursery classes in Yorkshire and the South East were recruited to the trial in 2013. Children identified as having relatively low language skills were randomly allocated to the 30-week programme, the 20-week programme or standard provision. The qualitative fieldwork carried out as part of the project involved interviews with a total of 12 staff in 8 of the 34 participating schools.