Catch-up

NELI catch-up scheme boosted children’s language by 4 months

Evaluation also finds pupils eligible for free school meals made even more progress from national roll-out of intervention

Evaluation also finds pupils eligible for free school meals made even more progress from national roll-out of intervention

An early language intervention that formed part of the government’s catch-up programme boosted children’s language skills by four months, a study has found.

The evaluation of the three-year Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) scheme also found progress made by poorer pupils who took part averaged seven months.

A national roll-out of the programme, created by the founders of University of Oxford spin-off OxEd & Assessment, was funded by the Department for Education to the tune of £17 million and offered to all schools with a reception class.

More than 10,000 schools registered.

It involved training school staff, usually teaching assistants or early years educators, to deliver “individual and small-group sessions to four and five-year-olds to improve their vocabulary, active listening and narrative skills”.

An earlier evaluation found a “large proportion” of pupils did not complete the scheme as intended, but that the majority of staff surveyed observed an increase in pupils’ confidence in their use of language.

The government announced in the summer that it would continue to fund the scheme for state schools this academic year.

Today the Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation by the National Foundation for Educational Research of the second year of the national rollout, based on data from 10,800 children in 350 schools.

It found children who took part made on average four months’ additional progress in their language skills, compared to children who didn’t receive the intervention.

Poorer pupils made even more progress

Further analysis found children eligible for free school meals made on average seven months’ additional progress, “suggesting that NELI could help to close the language development gap between socio-economically disadvantaged children and their peers”.

The impact was greater for children who received more of the programme sessions compared with children who received fewer sessions.

Professor Becky Francis
Professor Becky Francis

Many schools were “unable to deliver all the sessions” due to ongoing pandemic disruption, but “even for children who received fewer sessions, there was an average positive impact on their language outcomes”.

Professor Becky Francis, The EEF’s chief executive, said “time and time again, the Nuffield Early Language Intervention has proven its effectiveness in boosting young children’s language development”.

“It’s hard to overestimate how exciting it is to see a programme have a significant positive impact on a national scale.

Children’s minister David Johnston said it was “fantastic to see that the children involved in the programme are now four months ahead of where they would have been without the programme, with disadvantaged children having benefitted the most”.

“The big impact this programme is having is clear, and I am pleased that we will now be funding it for another year.”

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