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NELI Preschool

Craig Bolton, Headteacher at East Prescot Road Nursery School, Liverpool, introduces the NELI Preschool programme. East Prescot Road Nursery School is a partner of the Stronger Practice Hub.


What is NELI Preschool? 

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention for Nursery (NELI Preschool) combines elements of two successful existing interventions: NELI-R and Parent and Children Together (PACT). NELI Preschool is an enrichment programme, delivered to the whole class, with additional targeted support for children with weaker oral language.

The programme is designed for 3 and 4 year olds and runs over 20 weeks.  It involves scripted interventions, focusing on dialogic reading, teaching vocabulary, listening and narrative skills. In Reception year, the NELI-R programme follows on and develops children’s phonological awareness and letter sound knowledge.

Reading is at the heart of NELI Preschool. The programme is crafted around 20 high-quality, engaging books, including traditional tales, non-fiction and fiction. Ideas are often expanded into language-rich and engaging continuous provision and can become a solid basis for a book-focused sequenced and progressive curriculum.


Why did we adopt NELI Preschool?

Our school’s top priority had been improving children’s outcomes in communication and language.  This became even more pressing following the Covid pandemic. We had devised a strategy for professional development to improve practitioner expertise within the language-rich learning environment. We had already adopted a range of interventions and approaches to assess and support our children’s listening and attention, comprehension and speaking skills.  We wanted to build upon our existing approach and to further develop our curriculum to incorporate books and the direct teaching of new vocabulary. The NELI Preschool programme was the ideal complement to our existing provision and offered opportunities for professional development for the whole staff team.

The power of NELI Preschool is that it is a whole-school intervention, a universal model. All children explore the same high-quality text, learn the same new words and their meanings and engage in the same learning activities that deepen their conceptual understanding.

How does NELI Preschool work?

Our whole staff team were very well supported in our preparation phase.  We received handbooks, resources, flashcards, training and mentor support.

Children were then assessed through an app called ‘Language Screen’, which identifies children needing most support with their language skills.  This informs the groupings of children who will receive further support in small groups 3 times per week, and those who will benefit from short individual sessions.

There are three elements of the programme: whole-class sessions delivered by a trained practitioner five times a week; targeted intervention in small groups for children with the weakest language skills and weekly individual sessions as a further opportunity to revisit learning.


The NELI Preschool structure operates over a five-day cycle, in daily 15-20 minute sessions.  The first day involves sharing the book of the week with the whole class.  The remaining four days focus on a ‘Special Word’ from the shared text, with interactive learning activities designed to explore the new word and linked concepts in greater detail.  The programme is supported by digital resources for the Interactive Whiteboard and scripted handbooks to support the delivery of the sessions.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is funding a project to further understand delivery of the programme in PVI settings, with interested settings able to register now to take part. In addition, EEF in collaboration with the Department for Education’s Stronger Practice Hubs, are exploring funding a larger trial in 2024 with both state-maintained and PVI settings. 

What to do if you would like more information about NELI Preschool, or supporting the language and literacy development of children in your setting

If you would like to develop your skills or further your knowledge in early language or literacy development for children in your setting, why not explore:

  • The support available through your local Early Years Stronger Practice Hub, which is detailed here.

  • The EEF Evidence Store gives accessible evidence-based information on approaches that practitioners can use when supporting communication and language development, and early literacy

  • The NELI website can be accessed here. 

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