Evaluation of an early language intervention

A randomised controlled trial, conducted by Silke Fricke and colleagues, looked at the effect of an oral language intervention and compared the extent to which a 30-week programme beginning in nursery and continuing for 20 weeks in Reception was more effective than delivering a 20-week programme starting in Reception.

Children from 34 nurseries in the UK were randomly allocated to a 30-week intervention (n= 132), a 20-week intervention (n=133), or an untreated waiting control group (n=129). Allocation was minimized for gender, age and verbal skills. The children in the 30-week intervention group received the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme for 10 weeks in nursery and continued for 20 weeks in Reception. The 20-week intervention group received only the final 20 weeks of the intervention, beginning when they entered primary school. The control group received their usual schooling.

Children in both the 20- and 30-week programme intervention groups showed greater improvement in oral language skills on measures including the CELF Expressive Vocabulary and CELF Sentence Structure subtests, and the Information Score from the Renfrew Action Picture Test, compared to children in the control group (effect size for the 20-week programme = +0.21; effect size for the 30-week programme = +0.30). However, there was no evidence to suggest that either programme improved early literacy or reading comprehension skills.

Source: The efficacy of early language intervention in mainstream school settings: a randomized controlled trial (October 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12737

Using teaching assistants to improve language skills and reading

Two new evaluations from the Education Endowment Foundation in England have found that two interventions using teaching assistants (TAs) have positive effects.

REACH is a targeted reading support programme designed to improve the reading accuracy and comprehension of students with reading difficulties in Years 7 and 8. It is delivered by specially trained TAs. The evaluation tested two interventions – one based on the original Reading Intervention developed by the University of York, and the other with supplementary material on language comprehension. The evaluation was carried out in 21 schools around Leeds, with 202 students (70 and 69 receiving each intervention; 63 control). Results showed a positive effect on reading skills for both the Reading Intervention (+0.33) and the Reading Intervention with additional material on language comprehension (+0.51). The evaluations did not provide evidence that the interventions improved reading comprehension in particular, as opposed to other skills such as word recognition.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is designed to improve the spoken language ability of children during the transition between nursery and primary school. It is targeted at children with poor language skills, who receive 20 or 30 weeks of sessions focused on listening, narrative, and vocabulary skills. The evaluation is delivered by TAs and nursery staff. The evaluation was carried out in 34 schools with attached nursery schools or nursery classes in Yorkshire and the South-East, with 350 children participating (114 received the 30-week treatment, 121 the 20-week treatment, and 115 in the control group). Both interventions had a positive effect on language skills (+0.27 for the 30-week and +0.16 for the 20-week). However, there was no reliable evidence that it had a positive effect on children’s word-literacy skills.

Source: REACH and Nuffield Early Language Intervention (2016), Education Endowment Foundation.