Using Research Tools to Improve Language in the Early Years

This programme aims to improve children’s language and social-behavioural outcomes, by training nursery and reception teachers to use self-assessment tools called the Environment Rating Scales (ERS). These scales are highly regarded research tools used for assessing the quality of early years settings, and thought to predict children’s development in early years and beyond. They provide a framework for observers to assess elements of early years practice including language and reasoning, adult-child interactions, activities and care routines.

The core model that will be tested in this programme involves 5 days of training delivered to early years teachers over 5 months, with a follow-up day 3 months later. Practitioners are taught the principles of using audit tools to improve practice in their settings, and how to support children’s development through evidence-based practice. Teachers will also receive mentoring to help them apply the training in practice. The intervention will be developed and delivered by a team from Oxford University, UCL Institute of Education, and A+ Education.

Why are we funding it?

ERS were developed for research purposes, and were used in the Effective Provision of Pre-School Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study running from 1997–2015. There is good evidence that children who attend settings scoring more highly on ERS have better language, pre-reading, maths, reasoning and social-behavioural outcomes than children attending lower quality settings and that they do better in national tests. For example, the EPPSE study found that children attending a high quality pre-school (as defined by ERS) continued to perform better in maths and English at Key Stage 2 and GCSE when compared to those attending low quality pre-school. This project is testing a way of using the ERS to promote quality practices in a range of early years settings.

How are we evaluating it?

A team from the Behavioural Insights Team and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has been appointed to conduct the evaluation of the programme. The evaluation will be structured as a two-armed randomised control trial involving 120 primary schools with nursery classes. 60 schools will be allocated to receive the intervention and 60 to a business as usual control group.

Recruitment will begin in April 2016 with the aim of starting the intervention with the cohort of children starting nursery in September 2016. The evaluation will look at the impact of the programme on language and social-behavioural development, as well as the impact on changes in practice among early years practitioners. 

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in spring 2020.