Talk for Literacy

The speaking and listening intervention evaluated was a combination of two programmes: the Vocabulary Enrichment Intervention Programme (VEIP) and the Narrative Intervention Programme (NIP). The former aims to teach children new words and to encourage the use of these words in speaking and writing. The latter aims to enhance the understanding and expression of narratives to develop speaking and listening skills. The dual intervention was used with pupils who needed extra support to improve their literacy (either not having reached Level 4 at Key Stage 2 or considered ‘vulnerable’ Level 4 readers). The aim was to enhance pupils’ literacy by improving their vocabulary and narrative skills.

Five Teaching Assistants (TAs) and one teacher in the three secondary schools received training on the VEIP, the NIP and speech, language and communication difficulties. They delivered the VEIP to 118 Year 7 pupils in small groups (three to eight pupils) between September 2013 and December 2013 (approximately 12 teaching weeks) and the NIP between January 2014 and March 2014 (approximately 11 teaching weeks). Each intervention group had two lessons a week (40–60mins).

The programme was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial which compared the intervention to a ‘business-as-usual’ control group. The delivery and evaluation of this project was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of 23 projects focused on literacy catch-up at the transition from primary to secondary school. It was one of four projects funded with a particular focus on reading comprehension.

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. The speaking and listening intervention had a moderate impact on overall reading ability but this was not statistically significant (although was on the border of being so).

What is the impact?

The main result of the trial was that the speaking and listening intervention had an effect size of 0.20; roughly equivalent to three months of extra progress in reading. However, the result was not statistically significant at the 5% level (although was on the border of being so). It did have a significant impact on one secondary outcome, passage comprehension, but did not have an impact on pupils’ ability in sentence completion or recalling sentences.

Observations and interviews with the TAs indicated that pupils engaged with the lessons for the most part, although in some groups pupils’ focus waned towards the end of each programme. In some cases, poor attendance resulted in some groups achieving limited coverage of the programme material (especially the VEIP), however there was no significant relationship between impact and the intervention ‘dosage’ (the time that a pupil spent in intervention lessons). The reasonably fast pace of delivery and necessarily selective approach to the programme materials (given the time available) may have limited the intervention’s impact. TAs reported that the intervention improved pupils’ communication skills (in terms of articulacy and confidence), rather than their reading ability. Those aspects of verbal communication were not formally assessed. 

GROUPNO. OF PUPILS EFFECT SIZE (95% CONFIDENCE INTERVAL)ESTIMATED MONTHS’ PROGRESSEVIDENCE STRENGTHCOST
Intervention vs control (all pupils) 2130.20 (-0.02, 0.42)+3 months
Intervention vs control (FSM pupils)600.33 (-0.06, 0.71)+4 monthsN/A

How secure is the finding?

Impact was assessed through a two-arm pupil-randomised controlled trial in three secondary schools: 235 Year 7 pupils were randomised either to receive the speaking and listening intervention or to be in the ‘business as usual’ control group.

The VEIP and the NIP had not previously been evaluated for their impact on reading comprehension. They had been trialled in a three-armed trial undertaken by the developer of the two programmes in 21 secondary schools in outer London areas from 2006. The developer reported a significant impact of the VEIP on vocabulary test scores and of the NIP on storytelling skills, although the full analysis and report has not yet been published. The present study represents the first evaluation of the speaking and listening intervention in terms of its impact on reading ability. As the delivery was overseen by the trial developers, it can be regarded as an efficacy trial. Efficacy trials seek to test evaluations in the best possible conditions to see if they hold promise. They do not indicate the extent to which the intervention will be effective in all schools since the participating schools are selected from one area, and the programme is closely managed by the developers.

The primary outcome was reading ability as assessed by scores from the GL Assessment New Group Reading Test (NGRT). The secondary outcomes were the two NGRT subscales of sentence completion and passage comprehension. Test administration was carried out by staff at the participating schools. Efforts were made to ensure that test administration was blind in every school although complete blindness, as if delivered externally, cannot be guaranteed. The test marking was carried out by GL Assessment and was therefore blind.

Ninety-one per cent of randomised pupils were included in the final analysis for both the NGRT and recalling sentences outcomes. Both control and intervention groups suffered similar levels of attrition and further analysis shows there is no evidence of bias in pupil characteristics between groups.

To view the project's evaluation protocol click here.

How much does it cost?

The cost of training and equipping two TAs to deliver the intervention to one cohort of 40 pupils each year for two years works out at £29 per pupil. This assumes a one-off training cost of £2,000 and provision of teacher resource packs at £87.50 each.