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Empowering staff to enhance oral language in the early years

Researchers: Professor Julie Dockrell | Professor James Law ...

By Nuffield Foundation

Project overview

This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a programme called Talking Time, which has been designed to support the development of oral language skills among 3- and 4-year-olds living in deprived areas.

Social deprivation is closely associated with language delay, which in turn is linked to a range of negative social, behavioural and educational outcomes.

The Talking Time programme includes 15-minute classroom sessions delivered by teachers or teaching assistants three times per week for 14 weeks to groups of 20 children. It also comprises training, mentoring and professional networking activities for these staff, aimed at equipping them to create a high-quality language-learning environment in their classrooms.

Results from a small pilot trial indicate that Talking Time can have positive effects on both children’s language and the language-learning environment of the classroom, supporting the case for undertaking this larger randomised controlled trial. Thirty-six nursery and primary schools from the most deprived areas in Greater London and Teesside will be divided into two equal groups, only one of which will receive the Talking Time programme. Standardised assessments will be used to compare their outcomes in terms of children’s oral language competence and socio-emotional development, as well as the quality of the language-learning environment. Background data on the child, teacher and nursery or school will also be analysed to explore any factors that might limit programme effectiveness.

This intervention study complements our work on oral language in the early years, including the Nuffield Early Language Intervention.


  • Professor Julie Dockrell
    University College London
  • Professor James Law
    University of Newcastle
  • Sandra Mathers
    University of Oxford

  • Eleanor Ireland
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to 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.

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