Programme Aims
  • To narrow the gap in attainment between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers by focusing on communication and language skills in the Early Years.
  • To increase effective practice in Early Years settings (particularly PVI) supporting communication and language.
  • To increase the evidence of established, locally developed, speech and language therapy led communication and language strategies and build knowledge of what works to scale up and inform the sector.

In this pilot phase, the Sutton Trust will work with two SALT teams (Hackney and Nottinghamshire) with funding for delivery and support from an expert ‘critical friend’ team, including the University of Oxford and the Institute for Employment studies. They will help the SALT teams to define and refine their approach, as well as develop an evaluation framework to demonstrate impact on both practice in early years settings and child outcomes.

Building on this pilot phase, we plan to roll out the elements of practice that are identified as effective into areas neighbouring Hackney and Nottinghamshire. We will be planning for this next phase of delivery throughout the pilot phase.


We know that children from the lowest income families are nearly a year behind in language skills by the time they reach school age. Language skills are a critical factor in social disadvantage and in the intergenerational cycles that perpetuate poverty. Vocabulary at age five has been found to be the best predictor of whether children who experienced social deprivation in childhood were able to ‘buck the trend’ and escape poverty in later life (Blanden 2006). The importance of early language and communication in determining a child’s ‘school readiness’ and future learning trajectory is well established.

Communication and language support in many early years settings, particularly within the PVI sector, has been identified as key to improving language skills in the early years. Nationally, around 70% of two – four-year olds are in the PVI sector, which are currently less well-resourced than the maintained sector.

The Study of Early Education and Development (SEED)[[1]] report in 2018 recommended that “future research should consider ways in which practice can be enhanced to increase language development in children attending a group setting, because although a number of areas of development were shown to benefit from setting attendance including socio-emotional and cognitive development, short-term language benefits of group settings were not found in SEED.” The vast majority of settings in the SEED report were from the PVI[[2]]sector.

There is a growing body of evidence on the most effective early language and communication interventions but the challenge is to implement them well at a local level. The 2019 Conservative government prioritised communication and language in the early years. Specifically, they have provided funding for training of early years practitioners in the ELKLAN communication programme in 53 local authorities. We support this initiative but there is a real challenge to maintain impact when evidence-based interventions are scaled up and rolled out in everyday environments.

The Sutton Trust initiative  – which provides ongoing support, coaching, modelling and mentoring by expert Speech and Language therapists – would complement and enhance the roll out of training programmes.

There is lack of evaluation of the potential role played by Speech and Language Therapists[[3]] in universal provision. Our intention is to address this with this work.

[1] Study of Early Education and Development (SEED): Impact Study on Early Education Use and Child Outcomes up to age four years

[2] Maintained settings are state funded and are required to have a headteacher and to employ qualified teachers; PVI Private, Voluntary or Independent do not receive state funding except through a contribution to places via the two, three and four year old offer and are not required to employ qualified teachers.

[3] “There has been little evaluation of the effectiveness of SLT-specific roles in universal health and education services for children. These roles usually focus on training others to promote the development of speech, language and communication” 2019 report: (Ebbels, S. H., McCartney, E., Slonims, V., Dockrell, J. E., & Norbury, C. F. (2019).)

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