Plain English Summary
Background and study aims
This study will evaluate the effectiveness of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme, which is a 20-week educational programme suitable for children in reception year (aged 4 – 5) in UK primary schools. The programme is designed to improve the language skills of children with language learning weaknesses. It is delivered by specially trained teaching assistants working with children individually and in small groups. The version of the programme to be evaluated in the current study has been published by Oxford University Press (see OUP website for details of the programme https://global.oup.com/education/content/primary/series/nuffield-intervention/?region=uk ). Evidence from previous studies has shown the programme has a positive effect on children’s language skills. The current study will seek more robust evidence, from a larger sample of children, for the effectiveness of the published version of this programme, which includes training for teaching assistants by Elklan, a specialist in educational training.
Who can participate?
Children in reception classes (aged 4 to 5) at about 200 primary schools from a number of geographical areas across the UK, including Manchester, Bristol, Cornwall, Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and the North West of England
What does the study involve?
Before the intervention programme begins all children in all participating reception classrooms undergo a short app-based assessment of four core language skills: expressive vocabulary, receptive vocabulary, sentence repetition, and listening comprehension. From this assessment the five children in each participating reception classroom with the poorest language scores are selected for detailed language assessment. After pretesting is completed, the schools are randomly allocated to one of two groups to either receive the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme or to not receive it. The five children in each participating class in intervention group schools then receive the programme for 20 weeks (January to June 2019). Once the programme has been completed, all children in every school are assessed again using the same assessments (June/July 2019). The language of children in intervention group schools is compared to those in control group schools to see how much the children who took part have improved as a result of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme.
What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
Children taking part in the intervention will benefit from additional small group and individual teaching sessions. Schools in the control group will receive monetary compensation and can choose to purchase the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme once the study is completed. There are no anticipated risks of participation.
Where is the study run from?
University of Oxford (UK)
Who is funding the study?
Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (UK)
Who is the main contact?
Dr Gillian West
Dr Gillian West
Department of Education
The University of Oxford
15 Norham Gardens
The effectiveness of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme: a randomised controlled trial
This is a randomised control trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme. This is a 20-week evidence-based programme suitable for children in reception year in UK primary schools. The programme is designed to improve the oral language skills of children with language learning weaknesses. The programme is delivered by specially trained teaching assistants working with children individually and in small groups. The version of the programme to be evaluated in the current trial has been published by Oxford University Press (Fricke, Bowyer-Crane, Snowling, & Hulme, 2018), with training for the teaching assistants provided by Elklan. The OUP website provides details of the programme https://global.oup.com/education/content/primary/series/nuffield-intervention/?region=uk . Evidence from existing trials has shown the programme to have positive effects on children’s language skills (Fricke, Bowyer-Crane, Haley, Hulme, & Snowling, 2013; Fricke et al, 2017). The current trial will seek more robust evidence, from a larger sample, for the effectiveness of the published version of this programme, with training to those using the programme delivered “at scale”.
The Departmental Research Ethics Committee (DREC) in the Department of Education, The University of Oxford, 27/04/2018, ref: ED-CIA-18-192
Cluster randomised trial
Primary study design
Secondary study design
Cluster randomised trial
Patient information sheet
Not available in web format, please use the contact details to request a patient information sheet
Funding has been provided by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to conduct a cluster-randomized trial in approximately 200 primary schools in the UK assessing the effectiveness of The Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme. Schools will be recruited from a number of geographical areas including Manchester, Bristol, Cornwall, Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and the North West of England. All children in all participating classrooms will undergo language assessments at pretest in two phases and all pretest data will be collected prior to randomisation.
Phase 1 – Screening
Every child in the participating reception classrooms in every school will be assessed using the Automated Test of Language Abilities (ATLAS). This test assesses four core language skills: expressive vocabulary, receptive vocabulary, sentence repetition, and listening comprehension. This testing will be conducted by school staff. Scoring of responses is done online using the app. Based on a composite score (composite z-scores from the 4 subtests) from the ATLAS the 5 children in each participating reception classroom with the poorest language scores will be selected for further testing in Phase 2.
Phase 2 – In-depth testing
Detailed individual tests will be given to the 5 children identified in screening, as follows: CELF recalling sentences subtest, CELF expressive vocabulary subtest, Renfrew Action Picture test (information and grammar) and the YARC Early Word Reading subtest. These tests will be administered by testers trained by the research team.
After pretesting is completed, schools will be randomised (within each area) by an independent evaluator (RAND corporation) to one of two arms: intervention vs control. Intervention schools will receive the 20-week Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme and training in its use by Elklan tutors. The control schools will be required to agree to testing of children and will undertake not to use the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme in that year. Control schools will be provided with monetary compensation (£1000 per school) which they may use to purchase the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme the following year.
At posttest the same measures will be used as at pretest. ATLAS testing at posttest will be conducted by school staff. Individually administered language tests will be given by new testers, blind to condition, who will be trained to administer the tests by the research team.
Primary outcome measure
Analyses will be based on latent variable ANCOVA models implemented in an SEM framework. The primary outcome will be a language latent variable defined by loadings from the individually administered language tests (CELF recalling sentences subtest, CELF expressive vocabulary subtest, Renfrew Action Picture test (information and grammar). The same language latent variable will be created for pretest and posttest scores. The pretest latent variable will be the covariate, and the posttest latent variable the outcome measure. The effects of the intervention will be measured by the y-standardized regression coefficient for a group dummy variable. The effects of clustering within schools will be accounted for by using robust (Huber-White) cluster standard errors. Both primary and secondary outcomes will be measured at pretest (baseline) in September 2018 and at posttest (on completion of the 20-week intervention in June/ July 2019).
Secondary outcome measures
The secondary outcome will be a language latent variable defined by loadings from the ATLAS language app subtests (expressive vocabulary, receptive vocabulary, sentence repetition, listening comprehension). The analysis plan for this secondary analysis is identical to that for the primary outcome. We will also evaluate any changes in word reading scores from the EWR test by using ANCOVA on a latent variable from this test. The effects of clustering within schools will be accounted for in all analyses by using robust (Huber-White) cluster standard errors. Both primary and secondary outcomes will be measured at pretest (baseline) in September 2018 and at posttest (on completion of the 20-week intervention in June/ July 2019).
Overall trial start date
Overall trial end date
Reason abandoned (if study stopped)
Participant inclusion criteria
1. Children must be in Reception class
2. Children must be aged 4 to 5 years at pretest
3. Children will be selected for having language weaknesses in comparison to their peers at school entry
Target number of participants
The exact numbers of children participating in the trial is not known until recruitment is completed. We will seek to recruit at least 200 schools, and we would expect each school to have at least 25 children in the Reception class. We will select the 5 children in each classroom with the poorest language skills giving a total sample of 1000 children (500 intervention and 500 control). This will be a cluster-randomised design with approximately, 100 clusters (schools) in each arm. The schools will be spread across approximately 10 areas.
Participant exclusion criteria
1. Children will be excluded if they have a significant visual impairment
2. Children will be excluded if they have a significant auditory impairment
3. Children will be excluded if they have significant behavioural difficulties, such that they would not be able to take part small group activities
Recruitment start date
Recruitment end date
Countries of recruitment
Trial participating centre
Primary schools across the UK
The Education Endowment Foundation
21 - 24 Millbank
Education Endowment Foundation
Funding Body Type
private sector organisation
Funding Body Subtype
Results and Publications
Publication and dissemination plan
Results of the study will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal at the end of the trial.
IPD sharing statement
Anonymised participant level data will be entered into the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) archive by the Fisher Family Trust (FFT: the organisation appointed to manage the EEF’s data archive). Data will include the pupil outcome data from pre- and post-test language assessments, which will be linked with National Pupil Database (NPD) data. A privacy notice detailing this information will circulated to all participants along with information on the trial and an option to opt out of the study.
Intention to publish date
Participant level data
Stored in repository
Basic results (scientific)