account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upawarded books calendar close-modal closedate delete document education emailevent facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay plusplyr-pause plyr-play post preview project publication reports search-bigsearch share star-full star-open startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Nuffield Early Language Intervention boosts young children’s language skills by three months

An independent evaluation by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has found that the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) boosts the language skills of four- and five-year olds by an additional three months. These results suggest the programme could be a promising way to help children catch up when schools reopen.

193 schools across England took part in the large-scale effectiveness trial of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention. The trial tested the programme in everyday conditions and the findings have a very high level of security, which means that the EEF has a high level of confidence in the results.

Developed by Nuffield-funded academics, NELI is published by Oxford University Press and delivered by the University of Oxford in partnership with Elklan.

About the NELI effectiveness trial

Teaching assistants were given two half days of training and detailed lesson plans so they could lead short, structured sessions, often around everyday topics, such as ‘time’ and ‘what we wear’, with small groups of reception-age pupils. Rewarding the children was an integral feature of each session, from targeted verbal praise to more formal incentives like a ‘best listener award’, given to a child who had listened well in the group.

The independent evaluation, by a team from RAND Europe led by Alex Sutherland and Sonia Ilie, found that pupils who took part in the programme made, on average, three months’ more progress in language skills than a group of similar children who did not receive the intervention. The evaluators also found that the programme was an effective way of boosting language skills for children with English as an additional language (EAL).

Closing the early language gap

Early language skills are vital for children’s long-term success in education and other areas. Research has shown that children with more advanced language skills at the age of five are more likely to have better qualifications and subsequently be employed in adulthood compared with their peers. However, disadvantaged children are more likely to have fallen behind before school starts.

School and nursery closures could lead to a widening of the early language gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Today’s findings suggest that NELI could be an effective way for schools to help young children who have fallen behind during school closures catch-up with their peers.

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.

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“School closures are likely to mean those children and young people who were already struggling, fall further behind. While schools are working hard to mitigate against this, in the long-term, we need to focus on how best to help pupils bounce back when schools open again. Catch-up teaching targeted especially at those who have fallen furthest behind during this period will be essential.

“This is why today’s findings are so important. It is always welcome to find good evidence that a particular programme or approach is likely to boost outcomes, but today’s result suggest that this programme could be a particularly effective way of helping young children whose language skills have been particularly affected by school closures catch-up when they reopen.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“We are delighted that this EEF large-scale randomised controlled trial has shown NELI to be a low-cost intervention which improves children’s language skills by an average of three months. When children go back to the classroom later this year, effective, school-based interventions like NELI will be crucial to closing the ‘disadvantage gap’ which will inevitably widen whilst schools and nurseries are closed during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Professor Charles Hulme and Professor Maggie Snowling, University of Oxford, said:

“Our research focuses on children’s language and literacy development with a special emphasis on how to help children who find learning language and literacy skills difficult. A strong foundation in oral language is key to children’s success in education.

“We are delighted that this most recent EEF trial of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention delivered in partnership with Elklan who provided the teacher and TA training has produced such strong evidence of its effectiveness. We hope that schools will be encouraged to adopt the programme for the benefit of the many children whose educational progress is hindered by language difficulties.”

More about NELI


Explore our projects

Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Evaluating the short- and medium-term impacts of Sure Start

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Ethical principles underpinning co-production with young people

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

COVID-19 mitigation measures: education provision and access to special schools

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Teacher in classroom with laughing primary school students, reading a story to them.
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Gene-environment interplay in early life cognitive development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Evaluating the short- and medium-term impacts of Sure Start

View project
Teacher in classroom with laughing primary school students, reading a story to them.
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Gene-environment interplay in early life cognitive development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Ethical principles underpinning co-production with young people

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

COVID-19 mitigation measures: education provision and access to special schools

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Evaluating the short- and medium-term impacts of Sure Start

View project
Teacher in classroom with laughing primary school students, reading a story to them.
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Gene-environment interplay in early life cognitive development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Ethical principles underpinning co-production with young people

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

COVID-19 mitigation measures: education provision and access to special schools

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
Reported

Education | 2014 - 2015

The Nuffield Languages Inquiry and Nuffield Languages Programme

View project
Reported

Education | 2003 - 2003

Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

Growing up digital

View project
Houses of Parliament and River Thames. The Assessment Reform Group aimed to ensure government policy was informed by research
Reported

Education | 1996 - 2010

The Assessment Reform Group

View project
Reported

Education | 2013 - 2019

Pupils’ understanding of evolution and inheritance

View project
Reported

Education | 2013 - 2016

When to teach what? Sensitive learning periods and adolescence

View project
Reported

Education | Welfare | 2013 - 2019

Neglected tropical diseases

View project
Reported

Education | 2016 - 2017

School choice and equality of opportunity

View project
Reported

Education | Welfare | 2015 - 2016

Out-of-school-time programmes and GCSE performance

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2020

Teaching reading: an integrated programme for deaf & hearing children

View project
Reported

Education | 2013 - 2013

The effect of school inputs on educational achievements

View project
Reported

Education | 2014 - 2017

Special Educational Needs in Secondary Education (SENSE)

View project
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

Profile