Welcome to our research update

In the news

1.7 million children and young people in the UK are affected by speech, language and communication needs.

Evidence about speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)

Real life speech, language and communication research helps us understand the impact of SLCN, the numbers of children and young people affected and how to provide the best support.

Expansive research to date tells us that 1.7 million children and young people in the UK are affected by SLCN with a smaller, yet very significant 7.6% of the population of school children having Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).

Studies have demonstrated speech, language and communication skills are fundamental to learning, not just in literacy and English subjects, but across the whole curriculum, including maths and science and ultimately outcomes at GCSE and beyond.

Research shows good speech, language and communication skills are a protective factor for mental health, bullying and employment outcomes up to the age of 34.

We now know the importance of accurate early identification of SLCN; the interaction behaviours of those supporting children and young people; and benefits of well designed and evidenced support programmes delivered in schools and settings.

Newly published research

You may well have picked up on the very recent BBC focus on speech and language needs following lockdowns. Vanessa Clare, Paul Lynch and Paul Bradshaw wrote an article www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-63373804 in November 2022.

The report found that “the number of five and six year olds who need speech and language support at school has risen by 10% in England over the past year”. This increase is supported by research from Speech and Language Link, showing significantly higher rates during and since the pandemic.

Previous rises in speech and language needs have been linked to larger student numbers and better detection in schools, but this latest increase is much bigger.

Researchers found speech and language therapists struggling to cope with demand. Northwood Community Primary School in Merseyside report higher numbers of children experiencing language issues than previous years. Out of 500 pupils, around 80 now require extra support.

Among the recommendations referred to in the report, charity Speech and Language UK say “There is cost-effective support that can help children who are behind catch up with their peers quickly… And for children with lifelong challenges, there are evidence-based interventions and support that will help them meet their potential.”

It is strongly suggested from this research that “Multi-academy trusts, individual schools and local authorities should learn from existing good practice and invest in workforce training on speech and language, as well as short-term school based interventions.”

Your chance to take part in research

We are excited to partner with the Education Endowment Foundation and Sheffield Hallam University, delivering a national study investigating impacts of Infant Language Link in Year 1. The study takes place across the academic year 2023/2024 and we are looking for schools to take part.

Infant Language Link is an award-winning package enabling schools to identify and support children with SLCN. It encourages schools to develop a whole school approach to SLCN and provides activities for children with identified needs.

Schools will be allocated to either an Intervention Group or a Control Group.

Schools in the Intervention Group receive:

Free training for 3 to 4 members of staff on implementing strategies and delivering speech and language interventions.

Free Infant Language Link identification and intervention materials which can be used with all children in years R, 1 and 2 for the duration of the project.

Free access to our Help Desk and speech and language therapy advice.

All schools in the Control Group, will be given a financial reward to thank them for their participation in the study.

The benefits of being involved in research

There are many benefits to schools participating in research. Your school will be adding to the evidence base of what works in education in England, helping drive forward reform and excellent practice.

Those in the Intervention Group will have access to Infant Language Link products enabling you to identify all children that have SLCN in Year 1, establishing whether a literacy or behaviour need is due to difficulties with language.

Those who are in the Control Group have the chance to top up their budget to increase opportunities for activities that support the whole school community.

Being part of the research community brings its own benefits and develops understanding of how research works to support schools. It leads to knowledge and skills development for schools to build their own projects, looking at the impact that different teaching techniques or interventions have on the progress of students. Your knowledge, skills and experience will help children and education staff to be better supported in the future.

Your school’s involvement in this programme will also help you to raise the profile of speech, language and communication across your whole school.

Ofsted also look very favourably on schools who undertake studies and recently supported schools taking part in EEF trials…

“…We don’t want innovators to see the new framework as a brake. For example, if you are trying out new models as part of education endowment foundation studies or are working on new approaches to curriculum or teaching or assessment, that will be recognised.”

Amanda Spielman, Hm Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

Our project

This study aims to add to the evidence base and investigate whether a class-based and targeted language intervention can improve oral language skills for year 1 pupils. We will be looking to recruit schools across England to take part, but are particularly looking to work with schools from Education Investment Areas in the North East and North West.

Will training be provided?

Each Intervention school will be required to attend training on how to use the assessment and interventions. Year 1 class teachers, any TAs involved, and the SENCo will be invited to attend live, interactive webinars for remote training.

How do I get involved?

Visit our website at speechandlanguage.info/study to register your interest in taking part.

You can also watch our video which will give you some more details about the Infant Language Link package.

If your school wishes to take part, complete the online application form. You will be asked some questions to establish your school’s eligibility. Once you have completed the form, we will send you some more detailed information about the schedule for the project and the incentives for taking part. We will then ask you to confirm your participation in the study.

Once you have confirmed your place you will be asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, forming an agreed contract between the school and the research team.

Register your interest at speechandlanguage.info/study


JANUARY 2023: Registration for schools opens.

MAY 2023: Registration for interested schools closes.

SEPTEMBER 2023: Study commences with a visit from evaluation team from Sheffield Hallam University who will take baseline measures.

OCTOBER 2023: Schools randomly assigned to Control Group or Intervention Group.

NOVEMBER 2023: Control Group continue to provide usual support for children with SLCN. Intervention Group receive training and use Infant Language Link.

JUNE 2024: Evaluation team will visit all schools again to repeat baseline measures.

Criteria for schools

We are looking for schools that:

  • Want to implement an award-winning language intervention across Year 1
  • Are in education investment areas
  • Will have 20+ Year 1 pupils in one class in September 2023
  • Have not used Infant Language Link previously
  • Will be able to deliver both class-based and small group interventions for the year of the study

The EEF Project Partner Schools

We want schools to appreciate the benefits of research and know that their participation in the research project is valued. All schools involved in our evaluations will be designated EEF Project Partner Schools. The EEF will write to all schools at the end of the project thanking them for their contribution to building the evidence-base and narrowing the attainment gap. After the project has recruited, the EEF will send the schools a certificate showing that the school is an EEF Project Partner School.

We are expecting interest to be high in this project. Schools wanting to take part will need to have registered by the 19th May 2023.

Register your interest at speechandlanguage.info/study

Infant Language Link product

Infant Language Link is an online tool designed to identify difficulties understanding language and provide timely, targeted interventions as part of your whole school approach. This package allows you to track and support children from Reception to the end of Key Stage 1 so no-one is missed or misidentified.

Key features:

  • Standardised assessment to support early identification and intervention
  • Identifies children who need specialist input
  • Provides tailored small group and 1:1 programmes of work
  • Instant reporting feature for robust evidence of improvement
  • In-package and webinar training included


Difficulty understanding language can be hard to spot in the classroom through observation alone. To ensure no child is missed, the standardised online assessment is used universally. Fun, quick and easily accessible, it looks at understanding of language across key areas. Instant results will identify children who need specialist support and recommend appropriate class and small group interventions so you can target help at the right level where it is most needed.

A set of comprehensive progress measures establishes how the child is coping in the classroom. These help teachers set targets for improvement across key skills including communication, participation, listening, active involvement and social confidence. Instant reports and provision maps show in-school improvement for each child, class or year group.

“The class teacher has found this screening of great benefit and it has meant focussed intervention at this early stage has made an enormous difference. The teacher, TA and children thoroughly enjoyed using the resources. It is certainly a tool we will continue to use.” – Head Teacher, Aylesham Primary School, Kent


Infant Language Link includes planned and resourced interventions at a tiered level:

  • Whole class – high-quality teaching strategies and classroom resources allow the teacher to support speech and language difficulties universally. Our ‘Spread the Word’ pack provides posters, stickers and ready-to-use resources to encourage talking in class and beyond.
  • Group interventions – small, planned and fully resourced language groups allow support staff to provide targeted interventions. Training on how to deliver the interventions and record progress is provided through our in-package walk through guides. Advice for teachers to encourage generalisation of skills learnt in the group is also included as well as home practice activities that can be shared with parents.
  • Individual interventions – for pupils who need a little bit extra following a group, our supplementary teaching plans allow teachers and support staff to offer intensive focussed support in the classroom.

Results – What can you expect?

Infant Language Link is an effective wave 1 intervention to help schools close the attainment gap. In a small study, we compared assessment results from two groups of schools. The intervention schools used the Infant Language Link recommendations and interventions with study pupils across two terms. The control schools provided their typical classroom intervention e.g., class-based support. All children were assessed at the beginning and end of the study by the research team.

The results were overwhelmingly positive, with the children from the intervention group making more progress than the children from the control group: 75% of children in the intervention schools demonstrated age-appropriate understanding of language, compared with only 47% of control children.

What’s more, the children from the intervention schools had maintained this progress when they were followed up 18 months later.

75% of children in the intervention schools demonstrated age-appropriate understanding of language, compared with only 47% of control children.

Register your interest at speechandlanguage.info/study

“The programme has not only been highly effective in identifying children whose teachers did not think they had communication or comprehension gaps, but the children have also made accelerated progress. It’s a joy to work with and to see the children make progress because they have access to the interventions that meet their personalised needs.” – Vicki Logan, Headteacher, Overdale CP School. Scarborough

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