Evaluation of NELI, the evidence-based Nuffield Early Language Intervention

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The attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers opens early and continues throughout schooling. Interventions that target spoken language skills in children’s early years have significant potential to narrow this gap.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) is a language support programme designed to improve children’s vocabulary, listening and narrative skills. It is delivered by specially trained teaching assistants working with children in reception (4–5 year olds) individually and in small groups.

Previous evaluations, including an Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)-funded independent efficacy trial, found that NELI had positive effects on language skills.


RAND Europe was commissioned by the EEF to conduct a randomised controlled trial (RCT) into the effectiveness of NELI. The study aims to understand the impact of the intervention and will assess how effectively the intervention is implemented.


The team will undertake a two-arm RCT focusing on spoken language skills in approximately 200 primary schools in England. Schools will be recruited from a number of geographical areas and will be randomly assigned to a treatment or control group. Children in participating reception classrooms will undergo a short app-based assessment of core language skills. The five children with the poorest language scores in each treatment group class will be selected for detailed language assessment and will receive the programme for 20 weeks. The language skills of children in intervention group schools will be compared to those in control group schools to see how much the children who took part have improved as a result of NELI.