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Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) has a positive impact on children’s learning

Professor Margaret Snowling | Dr Claudine Bowyer-Crane ...

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Children around the UK are improving their oral language skills through the Nuffield Early Language Intervention, which has been shown to improve attainment for four- and five-year-olds.

  • 4 to 5-year-olds who completed the 20-week programme had three months additional progress in their language skills
  • 4 to 5 year-olds with English as an additional language also made three months additional progress

NELI has been evaluated in robust trials and has been shown to improve children’s oral language.

  • In September 2018, NELI was awarded a 3 star rating in the reception category of the Teach Early Years Awards which rates the effectiveness and value for money of interventions.
  • In February 2019, NELI was awarded a 3+ evidence rating in the EEF guidebook.
  • In May 2020, 193 schools across England took part in the large-scale effectiveness trial of NELI
By Nuffield Foundation

NELI is targeted at Key Stage 1 students who have weaknesses in their language skills so are at risk of experiencing difficulties with their reading.

The 30-week version of the early learning intervention is aimed at children in the final term of nursery and during reception. The 20-week programme is delivered to reception students only. Early intervention is known to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers. Developed by Nuffield Foundation-funded academics, NELI has been proven to improve children’s oral language skills.

A large-scale randomised controlled, independent trial of the programme by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has provided strong evidence for the effectiveness of NELI:

  • Children receiving the NELI programme made the equivalent of 3 additional months’ progress in language.
  • The trial involved 1,156 pupils in 193 schools.
  • This result has a very high security rating: 5 out of 5 on the EEF padlock scale.

The independent evaluation of the trial, by a team from RAND Europe, also found that NELI was an effective way of boosting language skills for children with English as an Additional Language (EAL).

An earlier, smaller trial of the programme found similar, promising results. The EEF is now exploring ways to scale-up the programme across a large number of schools and nurseries.

Who developed NELI?

Between January 2009 and May 2012 the Nuffield Foundation funded Professor Margaret Snowling, Dr Claudine Bowyer-Crane and Professor Charles Hulme, who were then all based at the University of York to develop an evidenced-based oral language intervention for children in in nursery and reception who were at risk of experiencing difficulty with reading.

The researchers ran a Randomised Controlled Trial of the 30-week NELI programme in 15 schools and feeder nurseries across Yorkshire. After 30-weeks the students who completed the programme had:

  • Improved expressive language (including vocabulary and grammar)
  • Improved letter sounds and spelling (which are the foundations of phonics)

Our Lady of Muswell Primary School describe their experience implementing the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme.

How does it work?

NELI is improving vocabulary knowledge, narrative skills and active listening in the early years. The 20-week programme is delivered by trained teaching assistants in two 10-week blocks. Each week, NELI is delivered in three group sessions with two to four children and in two individual sessions which focus on vocabulary, listening and narrative skills.

NELI is appropriate for schools using any curriculum and the NELI handbook is compatible with the Early Years Foundation stage. The 20-week programme is available from Oxford University Press and those delivering NELI can get support though Oxford Owl online. Teaching assistants and teachers attend a two-day professional development course to provide the pedagogical background and practical training on running the sessions. The resource kits include lesson plans, picture cards, resources to photocopy, a handbook and a Ted puppet. Students’ progress is monitored via assessments and record keeping.

I’ve noticed huge language improvements from the children taking part in the NELI group. One child in particular I was worried that maybe wouldn’t have made GLD – the Good Level of Development – by the end of the Reception year due to language, due to speaking, and that underpins everything for that’s the foundation. But from being in the NELI group this child now can hold a conversation with us, talks about things that she’s done in the holiday or weekends so I’m not worried now, and she’s made huge progress.” – Lorraine Haugh, Early Years Leader and class teacher at Our Lady of Muswell
The resource is sturdy and well made, and the package includes training for a teaching assistant and a teacher as well.” Sue Cowley, category judge for the Teach Early Years Awards

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