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62,000 reception-age pupils in England to take part in early language programme


Two-fifths of primary schools in England have signed up to take part in a programme to support four- and five-year-olds whose early language and literacy development has been most affected by the pandemic. 62,000 reception-age pupils in 6,672 schools will receive the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) this school year, according to data released by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today.

NELI is regarded as the most well-evidenced early years language programme available to schools in England. The programme was offered to state-funded schools with Reception pupils at no cost by the Department for Education (DfE) in response to disruption to schooling caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The EEF is managing the scale-up, which has been funded under the DfE’s wider COVID-recovery efforts. The DfE has announced additional funding to expand the rollout to more schools for the 2021/22 school year, to be delivered by the Nuffield Foundation.

Developed by world-leading researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Sheffield and York, NELI involves scripted individual and small-group language teaching sessions delivered by a trained teaching assistant or early years educator to children identified as being in need of targeted language support. So far, close to 20,000 teaching assistants and teachers have received online training designed by the University of Oxford and provided via, the leading social learning platform, to deliver the NELI programme to pupils.

The NELI programme, published by Oxford University Press, has been robustly tested through several trials, including two funded by the EEF. The most recent, involving 193 schools, found that children who received NELI made, on average, +3 months of additional progress in oral language skills compared to children who did not receive NELI.

New emerging findings from an ongoing EEF-funded study, which aims to examine the impact of Covid-19 disruption on primary school starters, suggest that language and communication are particular areas of concern for teachers this year.

In response to a survey carried out in Autumn Term 2020, 96% of the 57 participating schools reported being ‘very concerned’ or ‘quite concerned’ about their pupils’ language and communication skills due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The research is being undertaken by the University of York, the Education Policy Institute, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. This research suggests that targeted language support provided by NELI would be an important part of Covid-19 recovery.

Delivery of the 20-week NELI intervention had been planned to begin in January, however this had to be delayed until schools re-opened fully after the second period of partial closures. Schools are encouraged to extend delivery into the next academic year (when pupils progress into Year 1) to complete the full programme.

The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed funding will be available to the Nuffield Foundation to deliver the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) for reception children in the academic year 2021/22. The University of Oxford and Oxford University Press will again be supporting this initiative. If schools would like to be informed once registration is open, please complete the form here.

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“The impressive reach that the Nuffield Early Language Intervention has achieved in its first year of delivery shows how teaching professionals are embracing evidence-informed approaches to maximise their pupils’ progress.

“Whilst reported concerns around school starters’ language and communication development are of course worrying, it is reassuring to know that the NELI programme is available to meet pupils’ needs.

“In these challenging times, the success of the intervention constitutes an encouraging reminder that supporting pupils to overcome the detrimental impacts of the pandemic is not only possible, but very much underway.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“We encourage all schools who have not yet done so to apply to receive NELI, which will help them to address the communication and language development needs of children starting school later this year.

“Specialist training for teaching assistants to deliver NELI is free and can be accessed online, enabling schools to provide targeted intervention for children who are most in need of additional support in their oral language development.

“The earlier we can provide this support for children, the greater the opportunity to prevent them from falling behind in developing the foundations of language and literacy.”

Andrea Quincey, Director of Primary Literacy, Oxford University Press said:

“Oxford University Press is proud to be part of the team supporting the roll out of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) to schools across England. The emerging evidence of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our youngest and most vulnerable children is concerning and it is encouraging to see such swift action being taken to provide teachers with a robust, evidence-based intervention.

“In boosting children’s early oral language and communication skills, NELI will not only help to improve their literacy skills and academic outcomes but also – and perhaps more vitally – their social and emotional well-being and mental health.”


1. More information about the Nuffield Early Language Intervention is available here.

2. The full briefing from the Impact of Covid-19 on School Starters study will be available here. The schools and families that participated in this study may not be representative of all schools and families in England. The data reported is a small, self-selected sample, drawn from 58 schools. However, it covers a wide geographical reach and provides detailed information relating to school and parental concerns surrounding the impact of Covid-19 on school starters.

3. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust, as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus, with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.

4. For more information contact Charlotte Bedford, EEF Communications and Media Officer, at

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