Nuffield Early Language Intervention

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

An early language intervention aimed at reception pupils as part of Covid recovery efforts has been found to have a sustained positive impact on oral language skills and confidence using language.

Developed by researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Sheffield and York, the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) trains teaching assistants and others to deliver scripted individual and small-group language sessions to four and five-year-olds who need additional support.

The intervention takes place over 20 weeks and during 2020/21 and 2022/23, NELI reached 11,000 primary schools thanks to funding from the Department for Education as part of its Covid recovery strategy.

Research and anecdotal evidence from schools shows that pupils’ early literacy skills have been hit hard by the pandemic and time spent in lockdown as have language and communication skills.

Two evaluations have been published of the NELI programme. The first, from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) finds that NELI has had a sustained positive impact on young children’s oral language, early word reading, and reading comprehension beyond the initial intervention. It also finds that the intervention “particularly benefits children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds”.

The second evaluation, undertaken by RAND Europe, finds that taking part in NELI had been “beneficial for their pupils’ oral language skills and confidence with using language”. The evaluators also found that many of the benefits were still in evidence as children reached six or seven years of age.

The EEF has run two trials testing the NELI approach. The most recent involved 193 schools and found that children who received NELI made, on average, three months of additional progress in oral language skills compared to peers.

Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “There’s robust evidence showing NELI to be effective in supporting children’s communication and language skills and the new findings suggest that the positive benefits for children are still seen later in primary school.

“These reports give us a great example of how evidence can be successfully scaled and mobilised to address a real and pressing need. The success of the roll-out is also testament to the power of collaboration, with many different organisations contributing.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, added: “It took a pandemic to mobilise this, not least because of the effects of lockdowns and the closures of nurseries and schools on early language development. But, as the evidence shows, the NELI programme is important and effective for pupils’ language and communication skills.”

NELI is available to buy from Oxford University Press, and costs £870 for the materials and training for a single form entry school, and £1,290 for a two-form entry school.

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