Independent evaluation confirms benefits of Talking Matters for early years language development


An independent evaluation of Elklan’s Talking Matters programme, undertaken by the Department of Human Communication Sciences at the University of Sheffield, UK has shown dedicated training for early years staff makes a statistically significant impact on children’s receptive and expressive language skills.

Children who received Talking Matters support progressed by an average of seven months in their language development, whilst children in the control group progressed by two months. Differences could be seen in both the children’s ability to understand (receptive language) and their ability to use and combine words (expressive language).

Elklan was established in 1999 by two experienced speech and language therapists, Liz Elks and Henrietta McLachlan, in response to a demand for training to be delivered by speech and language therapists to education staff to enable them to be more effective in their support of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Elklan Infographic.

Since 2001, it has trained over 1,400 speech and language therapists as tutors and 714 specialist teachers as co-tutors. Most of the trainers work in the UK but in recent years Elklan has an increasing number of tutors in Ireland, Australia, Luxembourg and the Falkland Islands.

In the latest evaluation of its Talking Matters programme practitioners reported a significant statistical increase in their understanding of, and work to facilitate children’s speech, language and communication. Practitioners rated themselves before and after Talking Matters on 13 questions showing improvements in all areas, with mean scores increasing from 26.21 to 37.27, an increase of 42 per cent.

The trial resulted in practitioners using new strategies they hadn’t used before participating in the programme, such as modelling (nearly 40 per cent increase), waiting for the child to talk (37 per cent), focusing on verbs/action words (30 per cent), using short words and sentences (27 per cent) and focusing on describing words (23 per cent).

Dr Judy Clegg, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield, said:

Training pre-school practitioners to facilitate young children’s language development is a crucial component of early years provision. The study showed that Talking Matters does have a positive impact on young children’s language development.

Henrietta McLachlan, Director at Elklan, said:

We were delighted to see that Talking Matters has had a significant and positive impact on the children involved, as well as the practitioners. We know that many early years settings do not feel they have the training and knowledge to support young children at this crucial “golden period” of development.

There is a big demand for training to be delivered by speech and language therapists to empower staff to be more effective in their support of children with SLCN. This evaluation highlights the real difference high quality, accredited training for early years staff makes on children’s language development.

Talking Matters, funded by the Department for Education, was conducted across 128 nurseries, pre-schools and children’s centres in six areas of England and reached 8,964 children.

One-hundred-and-one practitioners received accredited training provided by Elklan to support them to work with children aged from one-and-a-half to three years. These practitioners then went on to cascade train another 1,329 staff. The programme built on the Early Language Development programme.

Thirteen settings across four local authority areas were involved in the evaluation undertaken by the University of Sheffield. Nine out of the 13 settings received the Talking Matters programme, whilst the others acted as controls.

A total of 126 children, aged 16-35 months were assessed prior to Talking Matters of which 87 children were available and reassessed approximately six months after the end of the trial. The Department of Human Communication Sciences at Sheffield University investigated the outcomes for children using a face-to-face, direct-play-based assessment of language comprehension and expression, Pearson’s Pre-School Language Scales 5th Edition.

The feedback from Talking Matters has since been used to develop Elklan’s Communication Friendly Settings Programme, an evidence-based intervention for children from nought to five years.

A key component of Talking Matters was the accredited Speech and Language Support for 0-3s course. Practitioners across the UK have attended this course and as a result have completed the first step towards gaining Communication Friendly Setting status for their settings.


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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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