NELI Evidence and Development

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) was developed by a team from the University of Oxford led by Professor Charles Hulme and Professor Maggie Snowling. They understood that identifying children’s language needs early and providing them with targeted language support could ensure they have the fundamental foundations needed for good language and social and emotional development as well as later literacy and numeracy skills. They adapted approaches frequently used by speech and language therapists and developed NELI as a resource that could be used by schools for pupils in Reception class with weak oral language skills. The aim was to design an evidence-based early intervention programme that could be easily delivered by schools to address children’s language needs.

A series of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) – the gold-standard method for measuring the effectiveness of an intervention – have made NELI the best evidenced language intervention in the world and shown that it brings about educationally meaningful improvements:

NELI Research in Full:

In 2014 an efficacy evaluation, conducted by the Education Endowment Fund, found NELI had a positive impact on the language skills of children in the trial. Staff also reported that the programme had a positive impact on children’s confidence.

In 2020 EEF funded a further National Scale-up trial of NELI to test if these results could be replicated when the programme is delivered under everyday conditions in a large number of schools. This independent evaluation found that:

An addendum to this research, published in 2023, focused on exploring the extent to which language impact was sustained and the impact of NELI on reading. Two years on, NELI was found to have a continuing positive effect on those who had gone through the programme.

Further research, published in 2022 in the Journal of School Psychology, investigated the effects NELI on children’s behavior in school. The cluster randomized trial in 193 primary schools found that children receiving NELI showed significantly greater improvements in behavior adjustment than the control group.

To the best of our knowledge, this evaluation makes the NELI programme the most well evidenced oral language programme available.

Department for Education (DfE) COVID-19 Response

In 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department for Education provided £9 million for schools to access the NELI programme in the academic year 2020/21. Dr Gillian West and Professor Charles Hulme at the University of Oxford, with funding from the Education Endowment Foundation, developed online materials so that school staff could easily be trained to deliver the NELI the programme. Over 6,500 schools (40% of schools with Reception pupils in England) registered to receive NELI.

Due to the popularity of the programme and adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursery children’s access to education, care and enriching activities, the Department for Education provided a further £8 million in funding during 2021-2022 and a final £1 million budget for 2022-2023, for state-funded schools in England to receive and deliver NELI.