NELI Preschool, an oral language programme, shown to improve children’s language skills

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Category: News

Block letters in pre-school

An oral language enrichment and intervention programme delivered in preschool settings – NELI Preschool – has been found to help children make the equivalent of 3-months additional progress in their language development, according to a report published today by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the randomized controlled trial evaluated the efficacy of NELI Preschool in 65 nurseries including 1,500 children, in the academic year 2021-22.

Language skills provide the foundation for literacy development and are vital for children’s social and emotional learning. However, 7 – 10% of children reaching school have significant language difficulties and, in areas of disadvantage up to half of children reach school with language skills that prevent them from benefitting fully from their education.

Preschool is, therefore, an excellent opportunity to intervene to support children’s language development and has the potential to narrow the gap in language skills associated with social disadvantage. NELI Preschool aims to do both these things, combining language enrichment for all children with additional targeted support for those with language needs.

NELI Preschool is designed around the principles of shared book reading and guided play. It features 20 books, published by Nosy Crow, containing a mixture of traditional tales, contemporary stories and non-fiction. The programme develops children’s vocabulary and narrative skills, encourages active listening, and builds confidence in speaking. NELI Preschool also includes LanguageScreen, a digital assessment to identify children who will most benefit from intervention, as well as to monitor the language development of all children. Staff delivering the programme receive comprehensive, CPD-certified training.

“We generally have a lot of children that are below age-related expectations of communication and language,” said Rachel Thomas, Manager at Rosebuds Day Nursery in Liverpool. “From the outset, we couldn’t believe the difference NELI Preschool made. It’s become part of life here at Rosebuds and it really has transformed the Preschool room. As well as hearing more vocabulary spoken by children, I’ve noticed a big difference in their attention and engagement. The staff and the children are all thriving from the programme.”

NELI Preschool will now be developed and trialled further by OxEd and Assessment, a University of Oxford spinout company, launched to take research into language development and assessment to practical application in schools. A project to further understand delivery of the programme in PVI settings is taking place this year, subject to funding from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). Interested settings can now register to take part on the OxEd and Assessment website. In addition, EEF in collaboration with the Department for Education’s Stronger Practice Hubs, are exploring funding a larger trial with both state-maintained and PVI settings.

Professor Charles Hulme, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and Founder and CEO of OxEd and Assessment said “The success of the NELI Preschool programme highlights the importance of early intervention, and so we are thrilled that we can support even younger children to develop their oral language skills. The combination of whole group language enrichment and additional targeted support for those with weak language skills is designed to narrow the gap between children entering school with poor oral language and their peers, while also ensuring that all children benefit from the programme. Together, LanguageScreen and NELI Preschool provide preschool settings a powerful set of resources to support the language development of all children.”

Dr Gillian West, lecturer in language development and disorders at UCL, co-author of the NELI Preschool programme and Director at OxEd and Assessment, added “NELI Preschool has been designed from the outset to be scalable, so training is asynchronous and online. Confident practitioners are the key to success with NELI Preschool, so training and support is comprehensive and highly flexible for trainees to access, as well as involving them in a vibrant, ever-growing NELI Preschool community of practice.”

Eleanor Ireland, Nuffield Foundation Programme Head for Education, said: ‘We are really pleased that the evaluation has found that NELI Preschool improves children’s language skills. We know the importance of oral language for children’s ability to thrive in school, and preschool is an ideal time to be able to support children’s language before they start their formal education. Given the programme is designed to be scalable, we are keen to see the programme evaluated at a wider level in more early years education providers’.

Professor Victoria Murphy, Director of the University of Oxford’s Department of Education, said: “We as a Department are very proud to have facilitated such a successful project, which has shown wide-reaching impact in supporting children’s oral language development across the country. We believe the NELI project is a fantastic example of the transformative, high-quality and multi-disciplinary research we do here at Oxford, delivering impactful results and improving education for children both now and in the future. We would like to congratulate Professor Charles Hulme and Dr Gillian West on these excellent results.”