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

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.

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

University of Oxford, UCL, and A+ Education

Professional development and mentoring for early years practitioners to improve quality, using Environment Rating Scales.

Cost
Evidence Strength
Impact (months)
-1
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Early Years

Key stage

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English

Subject

EEF Summary

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.

Research Results

Were the schools in the trial similar to my school?

  • There were 120 schools in the trial from the West Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester.
  • 28% of the pupils in the trial schools were eligible for Free School Meals.

Could I implement this in my school?

  • The resources used in this intervention included videos of effective pedagogical practice, research papers on oral language and pedagogy, and tools to measure children’s language and literacy development, and the Environment and Quality Rating Scales.
  • At least one nursery and one reception class teacher from each school were expected to attend the training days. In addition to the training, three days of in-class mentoring and coaching was provided to each participating school.
  • The programme is available from A+ Education (with adaptations following this project), the Environmental Rating Scales used in the project are available here.  
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Teachers

Delivered by

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Whole Class

Participant group

date_range

2 Years

Intervention length

How much will it cost?

Delivering the URLEY intervention costs £3,885 per school, or £51.80 per pupil per year averaged over three years. The majority of the costs are realised in the first year.

£

£52

Cost per pupil

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2-3

No. of Teachers/TAs

today

5 Days

Training time per staff member

Evaluation info

Schools

120

Pupils

2535

Key Stage

Early Years

Start date

April 2016

End date

July 2018

Type of trial

Efficacy Trial

Evaluation Conclusions

  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.


  1. Updated: 25th February, 2020

    Printable project summary

    1 MB pdf - EEF-using-research-tools-to-improve-language-in-the-early-years.pdf

  2. Updated: 25th February, 2020

    Evaluation report

    2 MB pdf - URLEY_Report.pdf

  3. Updated: 8th March, 2017

    Evaluation Protocol

    1 MB pdf - Round_9-_Using_Research_Tools_to_Improve_Language_Protocol.pdf

  4. Updated: 23rd July, 2018

    Statistical Analysis Plan

    502 KB pdf - URLEY_SAP_2018.06.22_FINAL.pdf

Full project description

The URLEY programme trains teachers to improve children’s language and social-behavioural outcomes in Nursery and Reception Year (ages 3 to 5). Early years 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 research tools (primarily the Environment Rating Scales (ERS)) to assess their practice, and provided with strategies for refining practice. Mentors supported teachers to implement the approach in their schools, using face-to-face and distance (skype/phone) sessions. A follow-up workshop in the third term was offered to review progress, consolidate learning, and plan next steps.

One hundred and twenty primary schools from the West Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester participated in this efficacy trial from October 2016 to July 2018. The programme was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial, testing the impact of the URLEY programme on children’s language development over two years, compared to business as usual in control schools, using a composite language assessment. Children’s social-behavioural development, and the quality of practice in the participating settings were also assessed. 1,978 children were included in the evaluation. The intervention was developed and delivered by a team from Oxford University, University College London (UCL) Institute of Education, and A+ Education Ltd. Interviews, case studies, and a survey, were conducted to explore how the programme was implemented and to obtain feedback from participants.