Education Endowment Foundation:Nuffield Early Language Intervention (re-grant)

Nuffield Early Language Intervention (re-grant)

University of Oxford
Implementation costThe cost estimates in the Toolkits are based on the average cost of delivering the intervention.
Evidence strengthThis rating provides an overall estimate of the robustness of the evidence, to help support professional decision-making in schools.
Impact (months)The impact measure shows the number of additional months of progress made, on average, by children and young people who received the intervention, compared to similar children and young people who did not.
Project info

Independent Evaluator

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Training Teaching Assistants to support early language development
Pupils: 1156 Schools: 193 Grant: £526,443
Key Stage: EY Duration: 2 year(s) 11 month(s) Type of Trial: Effectiveness Trial
Completed May 2020

This page covers the second (effectiveness) trial of Nuffield Early Language Intervention, testing a scalable model under everyday conditions in a large number of schools. To read about the first (efficacy) trial – testing whether it could work in schools under best possible conditions – click here.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) programme is designed to improve the language skills of reception pupils (aged 4 – 5) and involves scripted individual and small-group language teaching sessions delivered by trained teaching assistants (TAs).

NELI is published by Oxford University Press and was delivered in this trial by the University of Oxford in partnership with Elklan. The 20-week intervention consists of two 15-minute individual sessions and three 30-minute small group sessions each week, which focus on developing children’s narrative, vocabulary and listening skills, in addition to their phonological awareness and letter sound knowledge. The children selected to participate in this trial were the five children in each classroom who obtained the lowest scores on a school-administered app-based assessment of oral language skills (LanguageScreen). TAs receive two days of initial training, followed by ongoing support, while teachers also attend an initial half-day of training so that they can understand the programme and support TAs.

Nuffield Early Language Intervention

Research shows that oral language skills, the foundations of which are developed by age four, are strongly associated with children’s literacy, numeracy and educational attainment. However, there exists a gap between the language skills of disadvantaged children and their more advantaged counterparts. Early intervention has great potential to narrow this gap, and the Nuffield Early Language Intervention has previously demonstrated considerable promise.

Prior to this trial, different versions of the NELI programme had been tested in randomised controlled trials and demonstrated positive effects on children’s language skills. One of these trials was an EEF funded evaluation of two forms of the programme, delivered in 34 schools. The result, which had a high security rating, showed that pupils who received a 30-week version of NELI, spanning nursery and reception, made an additional 4 months’ progress in language skills, while those who received a 20-week reception version made an additional 2 months’ progress. The evaluation also followed children up 6 months later and found that the gains in language skills were maintained. This trial, however, involved a relatively small number of schools, and since that time a revised version of the 20-week reception programme has been published by Oxford University Press. The EEF, therefore, decided to fund a larger scale effectiveness trial of the published 20-week version of the programme

The results of this trial provide strong evidence for the effectiveness of the NELI programme. The trial involved 1,156 pupils in 193 schools, and the independent evaluation found that children receiving the NELI programme made the equivalent of 3 additional months’ progress in language skills, on average, compared to children who did not receive NELI. This result has a very high security rating: 5 out of 5 on the EEF padlock scale

In terms of secondary outcomes, children receiving the NELI programme also made an additional 2 months’ progress in early word reading and an additional 5 months’ progress on a teacher administered language assessment. Children with English as an additional language (EAL) receiving the NELI programme also made the equivalent of 3 additional months’ progress in language compared to EAL children who did not receive NELI

The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Education Endowment Foundation with the financial support of Intermediate Capital Group (ICG). The EEF will now explore how NELI can be provided to more schools across the country

  1. Children who received the NELI programme made the equivalent of three additional months’ progress in language skills, on average, compared to children who did not receive NELI. This result has a very high security rating.
  2. Children who received the NELI programme made the equivalent of two additional months’ progress in early word reading, on average, compared to children who did not receive NELI, in addition to four additional months’ progress in language skills (as measured by the digital application LanguageScreen).
  3. Children who received the NELI programme with English as an additional language (EAL) made the equivalent of three additional months’ progress in language skills compared to EAL children who did not receive NELI.
  4. Surveys and interviews from the process evaluation showed that schools believed the training and ongoing support provided was clear, useful, and sufficiently detailed for them to deliver the intervention effectively. Initial training attendance was high, and while top-up training attendance was lower, the vast majority of TA survey respondents made use of ongoing support such as telephone calls, webinars, or forums.
  5. There was variation in the number of sessions that schools delivered to pupils and schools did not necessarily deliver the maximum number of sessions. Schools were more likely to deliver the group sessions compared to the individual sessions. TAs attending training and delivering a larger number of sessions was associated with better language outcomes for pupils.

An addendum report was commissioned to evaluate the longitudinal impact of the NELI on reading, including early word reading, reading fluency and reading comprehension. It also examined the extent to which language impact was sustained using a latent measure of language. A number of standardised tests were administered to pupils for the purposes of the follow-up report, when children were aged between 6 and 7 years old. The follow-up assessment was initially planned for June/​July 2021, but owing to partial school closures due to COVID-19, testing was delayed to June/​July 2022 and eventually completed in Autumn 2022.

The findings show that NELI had an impact on reading comprehension and early word reading, but less of an impact on reading fluency. Exploratory analysis also suggests that NELI continued to have a sustained influence on oral language for those pupils included in the follow-up analysis. However, the high rate of attrition (55.5%) due to the pandemic’s continued disruption to school life resulted in a small sample at follow-up, so these results should be interpreted with caution.

Two subgroup analyses looked at the differential impact of the programme on pupils elligible for Free School Meals and those learning English as an Additional Language (EAL). Findings show there was an observable positive difference in oral language skills between treatment and control and this effect is larger for FSM pupils compared to non-FSM pupils. The EAL subgroup analysis indicates that NELI had a sustained effect on EAL pupils’ language skill development for those pupils that were analysed at follow-up. However, it is worth recognising that both analyses were notably underpowered and therefore findings should be treated with caution.

ImpactThe size of the difference between pupils in this trial and other pupils
SecurityHow confident are we in this result?
Language Skills
Months' progress