The Reception (aged 4 – 5) Nuffield Early Language Intervention Programme (NELI), through several robust EEF trials, has been shown to improve children’s oral language and early literacy skills. It involves scripted individual and small-group language teaching sessions delivered by teaching assistants (TAs), or early years educators, to children identified as being in need of targeted language support. The NELI programme aims to develop children’s vocabulary, listening and narrative skills and in the last 10 weeks also involves work to develop phonological awareness and early letter-sound knowledge as foundations for early literacy skills.
The EEF has funded two randomised controlled trials, which both found secure evidence of positive effects on pupils’ language skills. The strong evidence base of the potential impact of NELI led to a £9 million commitment from the Department for Education (DfE) to make the programme available to state-funded primary schools in England during the 2020/21 academic year. This was announced as part of the Government’s £1bn COVID-19 ‘catch-up’ package in June 2020.
Due to the take up of the programme in the first year and continued adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursery children’s access to education, care and enriching activities, the Department for Education provided an additional £8 million for further schools to receive and deliver NELI in the academic year 2021 – 2022. In light of this, the EEF extended its funding of the evaluation to study the scale up across the two academic years.
The scaling delivery partners for this project include the Department for Education, EEF, Nuffield Foundation, the University of Oxford, , OxEd and Assessment, Oxford University Press, Elklan and FutureLearn.
NELI has demonstrated its potential to support young pupils in need of support with spoken language through four randomised controlled trials. The EEF has funded two of these trials with the largest and most recent evaluation of the programme finding that children made on average 3 months of additional progress in oral language compared to children in the comparison group.
We are funding this evaluation to learn more about the key drivers and obstacles to programme implementation, assess and understand the scaling process of the programme in a COVID-19 affected environment and to provide recommendations for supporting future scale-up of educational interventions. We had aimed to fund an impact assessment of the programme on children’s oral language outcomes in 2020/21. Unfortunately, school closures Jan-March 2021 inhibited this plan. Plans are in place to commission and impact evaluation of NELI programme delivery in 2021/22.
A team from RAND Europe, led by Dr Emma Disley, will evaluate this project. This evaluation will use mixed methods, including surveys, interviews, focus groups and case studies, supplemented by secondary data analysis.
The evaluation report related to the first year of NELI delivery will be published in Autumn 2022 with a further report including the second year of NELI delivery published in Spring term 2023.