The Reception (aged 4 – 5) Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) Programme, 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 behind 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 schools in England with Reception pupils during the 2020/21 academic year.
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. An independent implementation and process evaluation (IPE) of waves 1 and 2 of the NELI programme has already been completed by RAND Europe and published on the EEF website. Although an impact evaluation of the wave 1 roll-out was planned, school closures mandated due to Covid-19 pandemic prevented this evaluation from being commissioned.
This impact evaluation, conducted by NFER, evaluated the impact of NELI delivered at national scale (as part of the wave 2 national implementation) on children’s oral language skills using a quasi-experimental Fuzzy Regression Discontinuity (FRD) design. The study found that children who received the NELI programme made the equivalent of four additional months’ progress in language skills, on average, compared to children who did not receive NELI. This result has a moderate to high security rating. The average number of group sessions the schools involved in the impact evaluation provided to pupils was 33 sessions, or 11 of the 20 weeks of the programme.
In the effectiveness trial of NELI, LanguageScreen was used as a secondary outcome measure and children were found to make, on average, an additional 4 months’ progress in oral language skills when measured by this assessment. This impact evaluation of the scale up of NELI also used LanguageScreen to analyse impact on children’s language outcomes and reports a similar finding to that of the effectiveness trial. This suggests that the average impact of the programme was maintained when delivered at national scale and when an online training and support model was adopted.
Additionally, subgroup analysis found a positive impact on the oral language skills of children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) who received the NELI programme compared to those who did not receive the programme.. Similarly, children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) who received the NELI programme also benefited from the programme compared to children learning EAL who did not receive the programme. . However, the sample of children for this subgroup was small and potentially not sufficient to confidently interpret the impact found.