Last reviewed 30 April 2021

New research findings from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggest that language and communication development in young children are particular areas of concern following the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The study, which aims to examine the impact of Covid-19 disruption on children starting Reception, found that 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. In addition, 76% of schools said pupils starting school in September 2020 needed more support with communication than in previous years.

The EEF also confirmed that the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) programme has been scaled up as an important response to the impact of the pandemic on school starters. Two-fifths of primary schools in England have now 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.

The fully-funded programme has been offered to state schools in response to disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Department for Education (DfE) has announced additional funding to expand the rollout to more schools for the 2021-2022 school year.

Developed by 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. The most recent trials of the programme, found that children who received NELI made, on average, more than three months of additional progress in oral language skills compared with children who did not receive NELI.

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.”