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Enhancing Language and Communication in Secondary Schools (ELCISS)

Researchers: Dr Victoria Joffe | Melanie Foster ...

Project overview

The ELCISS study developed two programmes, which were found to be successful in enhancing language and communication in secondary school students.

The programmes focus on story-telling and vocabulary enrichment, and were specifically designed for older children. Both programmes have now been adapted and published by Speechmark.

The study behind the programmes was set up to address the lack of research on older children with speech, language and communication difficulties, and specialist support for them. It was the first randomised control trial of its kind with this age group. The study’s three aims were:

  • To explore the language and communication abilities of secondary school students who were underperforming academically.
  • To investigate the effectiveness of two speech and language therapy interventions ‘ delivered by teaching assistants ‘ in improving students’ language and communication skills.
  • To explore the effectiveness of different levels of training support given to teaching staff.

462 students (aged 12 years) in outer London schools were recruited to the study. Over 90% had speech, language and communication difficulties, but only 3% had a statement of special educational needs and were receiving specialist support for this. Students were assigned to one of three interventions: vocabulary, story-telling, and a combination of both. There was also a control group. The interventions were delivered in schools by teaching assistants over a six-week period for 18 lessons.

All three interventions were found to be effective in improving language. This improvement was specific. Compared to the control group, those who had received the story-telling intervention performed significantly better only on the storytelling tasks, while those in the vocabulary group performed better only on the vocabulary tests, and those who received the combined intervention did better on all measures.

22 teaching assistants were trained to deliver the interventions, and the four-day training was successful at significantly improving their knowledge and awareness of speech, language and communication difficulties.

The programme has now been extended to other London boroughs. If you are interested in setting up the programmes in your school or local authority, please contact Victoria Joffe


  • Dr Victoria Joffe
    City, University of London
  • Melanie Foster
    City University
  • Nita Madhani
    City University

  • 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.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.