Andrew Smith, Ruth Staunton, Aarti Sahasranaman, Jack Worth
14 September 2023
NFER was commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to conduct an impact evaluation of the second wave of the national roll-out of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI). The national roll-out was funded by the Department for Education as part of the Government’s education recovery efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
NELI is a 20-week intervention involving scripted small group and individual sessions and delivered by trained teaching assistants (TAs) to Reception pupils with weak oral language skills. Previous EEF-funded efficacy and effectiveness trials have shown that NELI has a positive impact on the language skills of pupils receiving the intervention.
We used a quasi-experimental Regression Discontinuity Design (RDD) to investigate the impact of NELI when delivered at national scale. The evaluation analysed data from more then 10,000 pupils in 356 primary and infant schools.
- Pupils who received NELI made the equivalent of four additional months’ progress in language skills, on average, compared to pupils who did not receive NELI.
- Pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) who received NELI made an additional seven months’ progress in language skills, on average, compared to pupils eligible for FSM who did not receive NELI. This suggests that NELI has the potential to close the ‘language gap’ for disadvantaged pupils.
- Pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) who received NELI made an additional four months’ progress in language skills, on average, compared to pupils with EAL who did not. However, the sample of pupils for this subgroup was small and potentially not sufficient to confidently interpret the level of impact.
- Exploratory analysis highlighted that the effect of receiving NELI was greater for pupils whose TA delivered more of the programme's group sessions compared with pupils whose TAs delivered fewer group sessions. Even when fewer than the intended sessions of NELI were delivered, we found, on average, a positive impact on language skills of pupils.
- Exploratory analysis found that the effect of receiving NELI was greater for pupils in schools where more than 50% of TAs had attended at least one training session compared to pupils in schools where fewer than 50% of TAs had attended between zero and three training sessions.