Education Endowment Foundation:Nuffield Early Language Intervention

Nuffield Early Language Intervention

University College London and ICAN
Implementation cost
Evidence strength
Impact (months)
Project info

Independent Evaluator

The Institute for Fiscal Studies logo
The Institute for Fiscal Studies
Improving spoken language skills in young children around the time that they start school
Pupils: 350 Schools: 34 Grant: £736,546
Key Stage: EY, 1 Duration: 2 year(s) Type of Trial: Efficacy Trial
Completed February 2014

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

Nuffield Early Language Intervention

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The evaluation did not provide reliable evidence that either version of the programme had a positive impact on children’s word-level literacy skills.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
ImpactThe size of the difference between pupils in this trial and other pupils
SecurityHow confident are we in this result?
30 week intervention
Months' progress
20 week intervention
Months' progress