Improving Early Years Practice through Professional Support by Speech and Language Therapists: A feasibility study

It is well-established that greater socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with weaker language skills at school entry and that these early weaknesses increase throughout primary school. The vast majority of successful interventions targeting preschool children have been highly structured and tightly time-bound, and based on prescriptive manuals and specific materials. Although some “packaged” interventions have proved popular in some local authorities and schools, there are many local authorities and schools that prefer to use less prescriptive, more tailored  (‘contextualised’) approaches to supporting children’s language. The proposed research will investigate the effects of less prescriptive approaches emphasising support to practitioners by Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs).

Specifically, this research involves the small-scale pilot of a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) evaluation of preschool language interventions in two Local Authorities (LAs). Interventions focus on continuing professional development (CPD) for practitioners aimed at supporting staff in early years settings to improve their provision for children’s language development, led by SLTs in each LA.

The main aims of the project will be to investigate whether and to what extent these interventions have effects on teachers’ practice, professional knowledge and confidence, and on child communication and language outcomes, over the course of one school year (2020-21). An additional aim will be to assess the feasibility of and to provide recommendations for a larger-scale evaluation.

In partnership with the Institute for Employment Studies, who are running a parallel process evaluation.