More than 90,000 pupils get post-pandemic early speech and language support

Pupils who have fallen behind in oral language skills will get targeted support in two thirds of schools.

07 March 2022

More than two-thirds of primary schools across England have signed up for targeted language support to help the youngest pupils catch up with communication skills post-pandemic.

The news comes following concerns that early years pupils have started school missing out on key social and communication skills because of the pandemic.

Young children could not experience important social milestones during the pandemic, such as attending birthday parties or having play dates with peers.

An estimated 90,000 reception-age children have received support from the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) programme as a result since August 2020, with pupils taking part making three months’ additional progress on average compared with peers who have not.

The scheme will expand as 11,000 schools have now signed up to the programme, it was announced on Monday.

Children and families minister Will Quince said that “being able to confidently communicate is vital in shaping a child’s ability to understand and engage with the wider world”.

He added: “Language is key to a child’s development and we know that for many children the pandemic meant they missed out on important early social interactions, like parties or play dates.

“It is incredibly encouraging to see how many schools have taken advantage of the Nuffield offer, helping kids get back on track with these vital skills so they can communicate with their friends and teachers and thrive at school.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Children in reception classes have had a huge proportion of their lives dominated by the pandemic, which has limited their opportunities to interact and develop language skills, for some more than others.

“The fact that two-thirds of primary schools have arranged to receive NELI and are investing time in delivering the programme shows the value of access to an intervention that has been proven to work.”

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We have certainly heard from school leaders that the disruption of the last two years has had an impact on some children’s early language and communication skills, with higher numbers than usual needing extra support this year.

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Children and families minister Will Quince said it is ‘encouraging’ how many schools have joined the scheme (PA)

“Schools are working hard to provide that extra support where it is needed, based on detailed assessments of those children’s needs. It is important that schools continue to be able to choose the interventions that are right for their pupils.”

The sessions are delivered over 20 weeks in each school, with trained teachers providing scripted support to individual pupils or in small groups. Lessons also feature a puppet called Ted to help pupils concentrate on their speaking and listening skills and engage in communication-based games.

The expansion for the 2021-22 academic year is being managed and delivered by the Nuffield Foundation on the Government’s behalf, supported by the University of Oxford and Oxford University Press.

A report in May 2021 found three in five workers in early years settings reported fewer children were reaching expected levels of development since the pandemic began, with some lacking basic skills or forgetting how to play.

A poll of more than 1,300 workers in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings in England by the Early Years’ Alliance found 59% said fewer children from all backgrounds were meeting the expected level of attainment in key areas of learning and development since the pandemic began.

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