Boosting children’s early language development in Middlesbrough

EWT middlesbrough

Five-year-olds in Middlesbrough have some of the lowest communication, language and literacy skills in the country. This means that these children start school at a real disadvantage, from which most don’t recover during their school life.

From 2013-2015, the National Literacy Trust Hub in Middlesbrough sought to address this issue by running an early intervention programme called Early Words Together – with incredible results. 

To reach the children who were in greatest need of support, the National Literacy Trust identified the most deprived areas of Middlesbrough and the 11 primary schools within them. Early Words Together programme was then rolled out in six week cycles across the children’s centres that feed these primary schools. 

Over the course of three years, the programme trained a cohort of early years professionals and volunteers who helped more than 200 parents and families develop the skills and confidence they needed to be able to better support their child’s communication, language and literacy at home.

The children who took part in the programme made incredible progress. Analysis of the Government’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) data, which measures children’s level of development at age five, found that children who took part in Early Words Together had made incredible progress against their peers, both locally and nationally. 

EYFS data was compared for the 11 target primary schools that received children who had taken part in Early Words Together in Manchester, the remaining 20 primary schools in Middlesbrough that received children who had not taken part in the programme, and the national average. 


The analysis found that, between 2013-2015: 

  • The percentage of children reaching the expected level of communication and language skills rose by a huge 20.2 percentage points (pp) for those who had taken part in Early Words Together. This compared to a 12.4pp increase for children from primary schools in Middlesbrough who hadn’t taken part in the programme, and 5pp nationally
  • The increase in children reaching the expected levels in literacy was even greater, with a 20.9pp increase compared to a 9.1pp increase for other settings in Middlesbrough and 5pp nationally 
  • The percentage of children achieving an overall Good Level of Development increased by 26.9pp, compared to a 17.8pp increase for other settings in Middlesbrough and 8pp nationally 

Early years practitioners saw a real improvement in children’s school readiness, once they had taken part in Early Words Together. The Head of Early Years Foundation Stage at Hemlington Hall Academy said: “On entry to nursery, [children] have been observed to be significantly more ‘nursery ready’ – concentrating effectively, being able to listen, having greater confidence, speaking in sentences, having a wider vocabulary, understanding and having confidence to engage with stories.” 

Practitioners also found that parents who had taken part in Early Words Together were more confident supporting their child’s learning at home and were more willing to speak to school staff about their child’s education. This is particularly significant as, in these deprived areas of Middlesbrough, parents don’t always engage well with schools and nurseries.