Education Endowment Foundation:URLEY (Using Research Tools to Improve Language in the Early Years)

URLEY (Using Research Tools to Improve Language in the Early Years)

University of Oxford, UCL, and A+ Education
Implementation cost
Evidence strength
Impact (months)
-1
months
Independent Evaluator
Behavioural Insights
Behavioural Insights logo
NIESR
NIESR logo
Professional development and mentoring for early years practitioners to improve quality, using Environment Rating Scales.
Pupils: 2535 Schools: 120 Grant: £907,000
Key Stage: 1 Duration: 2 year(s) 2 month(s) Type of Trial: Efficacy Trial
Completed Jul 2018

The URLEY programme trains early years teachers to improve children’s language and social-behavioural outcomes in Nursery and Reception Year (ages 3 to 5). Teachers take part in 5 day-long professional development workshops in which they are introduced to a set of evidence-based language learning principles, taught how to use these and a range of research tools (primarily the Environment Rating Scales (ERS)) to assess their practice, and provided with strategies for refining practice. Mentors support teachers to implement the approach in their schools.

There is good evidence that the quality of early years provision is associated with improved outcomes at school. Children who attend settings scoring more highly on Environment Rating Scales (ERS) have better language, maths, and social-behavioural outcomes than children attending lower quality settings. However, there is currently less evidence about the best ways of improving setting quality in a way that impacts on children’s outcomes. The EEF funded this project because the URLEY programme is based on strong theory and evidence-based principles for supporting professional development and children’s language development.

This study did not find evidence that the URLEY programme had an impact on children’s language development at the end of Reception using a composite language score. The programme did have consistent positive impacts on the quality of teaching, such as the quality of language-supporting adult-child interactions. It may be that impacts on pupil outcomes would only be observed in the longer term, or with even larger improvements to practice. Many children were not taught in reception by a teacher who had received the full training (partly due to substantial teacher turnover in the schools), and it was not possible to assess the extent and impact of this in the evaluation. Additional induction training was provided where possible, but this is nonetheless likely to have reduced the potential impact of the URLEY programme.

The URLEY programme required significant time investment and cascading the intervention to staff who didn’t attend the training was challenging. However, teachers were overwhelmingly positive about the programme, reporting positive impacts for themselves as teachers (e.g. in their practice, professional vision and child development knowledge), and perceived benefits for children.

The EEF will use these findings to inform the design of future research projects on professional development in the early years.

  1. Children in schools receiving URLEY did not make additional progress in language development compared to children in control schools, as measured by a composite language score. This finding has a moderate to high security rating. The effect size is equivalent to one month’s less progress than the control group, though is equivalent to zero months once imbalance on the numbers of FSM and EAL children in each arm is controlled for. The result was similar for pupils eligible for FSM.
  2. The programme had a positive impact on quality of provision (as measured by Environment Rating Scales), with effect sizes in the range of 0.5 – 0.7. This suggests that quality of practice improved (eg, the quality of language-supporting adult-child interactions), but not at a sufficient level to translate to improved language outcomes for children. It may be that impacts on pupil outcomes would only be observed in the longer term, or with even larger improvements to practice.
  3. Many children were not taught in reception by a teacher who had received the full training (partly due to substantial teacher turnover in the schools), and it was not possible to assess the extent and impact of this in the evaluation. Additional induction training was provided where possible, but this is nonetheless likely to have reduced the potential impact of the URLEY programme.
  4. Teachers were overwhelmingly positive about the URLEY programme. 91% of responding teachers felt the intervention had a positive impact on the quality of provision and highlighted the mentoring as especially valuable. Many teachers felt the programme was most beneficial to a targeted subset of reluctant communicators, as opposed to whole class improvements.
  5. The URLEY programme required significant time investment and cascading the intervention to staff who didn’t attend the training was challenging. Condensed training and a more structured approach with milestones, goals, and senior leadership team (SLT) support may have helped teachers to prioritise the programme.
Outcome/​Group
ImpactThe size of the difference between pupils in this trial and other pupils
SecurityHow confident are we in this result?
Composite language
-1
Months' progress