Speech Bubbles

The Speech Bubbles (SB) intervention is a KS1 drama and storytelling intervention aimed at supporting children's communication skills, confidence, and wellbeing. The intervention was targeted at pupils aged 5-7 in Key Stage 1 in primary schools in England, who had been identified by their teachers as having difficulties with or lacking confidence in communicating or having poor attention and listening skills.

The intervention consisted of weekly 45-minute sessions, delivered to two groups of 10 pupils during normal teaching hours for 24 weeks over three school terms. SB is delivered by a drama practitioner (DP), who is recruited and trained by London Bubble, and a teaching assistant (TA) from each delivery school. Each session followed a clear and repeated routine centred around the telling and re-enacting of stories that are told by the children. The sessions included activities that support expressive language, receptive language and turn taking. 

accessibility

Key Stage 1

Key stage

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Literacy

Subject

EEF Summary

This evaluation is part of a round of funding between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts to test the impact of different cultural learning strategies in English schools entitled ‘Learning about Culture’. These projects have been independently evaluated by a collaboration between the UCL Institute of Education and the Behavioural Insights Team who have also produced an overarching report to draw together learning from all five trials within the round.

An independent review of the Speech Bubbles approach indicated that it had promise to develop pupils’ self-efficacy and communication skills. A comparison group study led by the University of East London also indicated that the approach had promise.

Wider evidence from the EEF toolkit on oral language interventions shows consistently positive effects of on average +5 months’ additional progress over the course of a year. The impact tends to be greatest for younger children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A number of studies also show the impact of trained teaching assistants effectively supporting oral language skills and reading outcomes.

The trial was a two-arm individually randomised controlled trial involving 1006 pupils across 26 schools. The independent evaluation found that pupils who received the SB intervention had, on average, lower reading attainment scores (equivalent to one month’s less progress) as compared to children in the control group. Pupils who received Speech Bubbles did not show any substantial difference in oral communication skills as compared to pupils in the control group. These are our best estimates of impact which both have a high security rating of 4 out of 5 on the EEF padlock scale. However, as with any study there is some uncertainty around the result: the possible impact of this programme on both reading attainment and oral communication ranges from three months less progress to positive effects of two additional months of progress.

The evaluation did find that members of the SLT, TAs and drama generally reported feeling positive about the intervention and reported noticing positive changes in pupils’ oral communication skills, self-efficacy, and self-regulation. However, the perceived impacts on pupils’ literacy were limited.  

The EEF has no plans for a further trial of the Speech Bubbles programme.

Research Results

Reading attainment (Progress in Reading Assessment: PIRA)

-1
Months' Progress
Evidence Strength

Oral communication (Renfrew Bus Story test: RBS)

0
Months' Progress
Evidence Strength

Were the schools in the trial similar to my school?

  • 1006 pupils across 26 schools were recruited for the study.
  • Schools were located in North West England, South London and East London.
  • 32.9% of pupils in the intervention group were eligible for FSM compared to 35.5% of pupils in the control group.
  • 56.2% of pupils in the intervention group had English as an Additional Language compared to 56.9% of pupils in the control group.
  • Ten schools were rated by Ofsted as outstanding, 13 were rated as good, and one was rated as requiring improvement. 

Could I implement this in my school?

  • SB sessions require a resource pack including a narrative stimulus pack and emotional faces stimuli. After each session, the TA and DP reflect on the session and co-plan the activities for the next week. Parents are encouraged to attend two of the sessions, but this is not mandatory.
  • TAs attend an initial training day and a second day with their drama practitioner halfway through the project. TAs are encouraged to attend training each year of implementation.
  • The direct cost to schools for the programme is £3000, but this is often subsidised by additional funding sourced by London Bubble or the regional theatre companies delivering the programme. Programme fees for schools participating in this evaluation were subsided by the EEF and cost £500 per school.
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SLT, Teachers, TAs

Delivered by

group-1

Small Group

Participant group

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24 Weeks

Intervention length

How much will it cost?

The costs to schools of delivering the Speech Bubbles intervention is low: £110 per pupil per year, as averaged over three years. The cumulative cost to schools over a three-year period is £6572. These estimates are based on one TA or teacher being trained per setting and delivering the programme to twenty pupils per year.

£

£110

Cost per pupil

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1

No. of Teachers/TAs

today

2 Days

Training time per staff member

Evaluation info

Schools

26

Pupils

1006

Key Stage

Key Stage 1

Start date

May 2017

End date

December 2019

Type of trial

Evaluation Conclusions

  1. Pupils who received the Speech Bubbles intervention had, on average, lower reading attainment scores (equivalent to one month’s less progress) as compared to children in the control group. Pupils who received Speech Bubbles did not show any substantial difference in oral communication skills as compared to pupils in the control group. These are our best estimates of impact which both have a high security rating. However, as with any study, there is uncertainty around the result: the possible impact of this programme on both reading attainment and oral communication ranges from three months less progress to positive effects of two additional months of progress.

  2. The impact evaluation did not find evidence the Speech Bubbles intervention had any effect on creative self-efficacy or social skills. The intervention did not have a differential impact on reading attainment or oral communication skills by eligibility for free school meals.

  3. Members of the SLT, TAs and drama practitioners in the case study schools generally reported feeling positive about the intervention and reported noticing positive changes in pupils’ oral communication skills, self-efficacy, and self-regulation. However, the perceived impacts on pupils’ literacy were limited.

  4. Overall, fidelity to the delivery model and dosage were high, based on data gathered through interviews, surveys, observations, and delivery records.

  5. The key factors identified that influenced implementation and delivery of the intervention were: (i) the need to have SLT support to secure required resources (e.g., the same room each week); (ii) SB facilitators acting as role models and partners in delivery; and (iii) the characteristics of the pupils and associated group dynamics during the SB sessions.


  1. Updated: 8th September, 2021

    Printable project summary

    1 MB pdf - EEF-speech-bubbles.pdf

  2. Updated: 21st November, 2018

    Evaluation Protocol

    1 MB pdf - Speech_Bubbles_protocol_1.pdf

  3. Updated: 8th February, 2019

    Statistical Analysis Plan

    370 KB pdf - Speech_Bubbles_SAP_20190119_final.pdf

  4. Updated: 8th February, 2019

    Evaluation Protocol (Amended)

    1 MB pdf - Speech_Bubbles_Trial_Protocol_v2_20190206_final.pdf

  5. Updated: 25th July, 2019

    Evaluation Protocol (Amended 2)

    949 KB pdf - Speech_Bubbles_Trial_Protocol_20190724_v3_final.pdf

  6. Updated: 25th July, 2019

    Statistical Analysis Plan (Amended)

    461 KB pdf - Speech_Bubbles_SAP_v2_20190621_final.pdf

  7. Updated: 7th September, 2021

    Speech Bubbles - Final report

    4 MB pdf - Speech_Bubbles_Evaluation_Report_Final.pdf

Full project description

The Speech Bubbles (SB) intervention is a Key Stage 1 (KS1) drama and storytelling intervention aimed at supporting children's communication skills, confidence and wellbeing. The intervention was targeted at pupils aged 5–7 in KS1 (Year 1 or Year 2) in primary schools in England, who had been identified by their teachers as having difficulties with, or lacking confidence in, communicating, or having poor attention and listening skills.

The SB intervention consisted of weekly 45-minute sessions, which were delivered to two mixed-year groups of 10 pupils during normal teaching hours for 24 weeks over three school terms. Each session followed a clear and repeated routine centred around the telling and re-enacting of stories that are told by the children. The sessions included activities that support expressive language, receptive language and turn taking. Each SB session is delivered by a drama practitioner (DP), who is recruited and trained in the SB approach by London Bubble, and a teaching assistant (TA) who works at the respective school in which the SB sessions take place.