Nuffield Early Language Intervention improves skills by up to four months

By Nuffield Foundation

An independent evaluation of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention has found that it improves the vocabulary, grammar and listening skills of four- and five-year-olds by as much as four months.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is an evidence-based oral language intervention for children in nursery and reception who show weakness in their oral language skills and who are therefore at risk of experiencing difficulty with reading. It is delivered over 20 or 30 weeks by teaching assistants in groups of 3-4 children. It was developed by a team of researchers from the University of York with funding from the Nuffield Foundation and adapted by researchers at University College London.

Positive effect for both 20- and 30-week interventions

The intervention was delivered by the charity I CAN and evaluated by a team from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and NatCen Social Research. The evaluation was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and tested two versions of the intervention across 34 schools and nurseries: a 30-week programme that started during the final term of nursery and continued during the first two terms of reception year in primary education, and a 20-week programme that ran during the first two terms of primary school.

The evaluation found that the 30-week programme improved the vocabulary, grammar and listening skills of four and five-year olds by as much as four months. The effect of the 20-week version was slightly smaller, but the pupils still experienced the equivalent of about two months’ additional progress.

Methodology

The impact of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention on the language skills of 350 children in 34 schools was tested using a randomised controlled trial design. Schools with attached nursery schools or nursery classes in Yorkshire and the South East were recruited to the trial in 2013. Children identified as having relatively low language skills were randomly allocated to the 30-week programme, the 20-week programme or standard provision. The qualitative fieldwork carried out as part of the project involved interviews with a total of 12 staff in 8 of the 34 participating schools.

Key conclusions

  • The Nuffield Early Language Intervention had a positive impact on the language skills of children in the trial. This is true for both the more expensive, 30-week version, starting in nursery, and the 20-week version, delivered only in school.
  • Children receiving the 30-week version experienced the equivalent of about four months of additional progress, compared with about 2 months additional progress for the 20-week version. Both results are unlikely to have occurred by chance, though results for the 30-week version are more secure.
  • The evaluation did not provide reliable evidence that either version of the programme had a positive impact on children’s word-level literacy skills.
  • Teaching assistants delivering the programme reported that they found it difficult to devote enough time to it, and that support from senior staff was required to protect the programme time.
  • Staff in participating schools reported that the programme had a positive impact on children’s language skills and confidence. They thought that the factors which contributed to this included the small-group format, the activities covered, and the focus on narrative and vocabulary work.

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