Supporting speech, language and communication in early years


The Early Talk 0-3 programme was designed to complement and consolidate learning and practice from a range of speech, language and communication (SLC) development and awareness raising initiatives, including the Bercow Review and Better Communication Action Plan, the Every Child A Talker (ECAT) programme and the SLCN Commissioning Pathfinders programme.

Because of our extensive knowledge of children’s services and our experience as a leading partner in the Commissioning Support Programme, OPM was asked to carry out an independent evaluation of the programme. We aimed to identify its strengths, highlight areas for development, consider the impact on services, practitioners and families in the pilot areas and investigate causal links between the programme and improved communication skills.

What we did

We spoke with I CAN and staff in the pilot sites to understand the approaches being adopted and the rationales behind them, then developed a logic model, which showed how the Early Talk 0-3 inputs, activities and outputs were intended to contribute to interim and longer-term outcomes.

We consulted people working in the pilot sites via an online survey of leads and practitioners from across children’s trust partners. We also facilitated three action learning sets using bespoke tools to match the sites’ context. We listened to users, ran focus groups with parents and carers in each pilot site and did in-depth interviews near the end of the evaluation to assess impact over time.

We learned that piloting new approaches in small areas enables impact to be assessed, while minimising the resources needed to develop new approaches. In one pilot area we found that new approaches proved effective in reducing waiting times and referrals for speech and language therapists. We also discovered that using the existing children’s workforce differently led to cost savings.


There are examples of pilot sites sustaining the most successful aspects of their local work programmes, particularly where they were able to integrate Early Talk 0-3 activities with other workstreams. For example, in one pilot site, an early intervention strategy is being developed using the principles of intervention before birth to help parents learn about normal child development. The site is using the strategy across a range of service areas, but focusing on priority wards.

In addition, I CAN used our evaluation findings to help shape the Early Language Development Programme recently commissioned by the Department for Education. We are the evaluation partner for this initiative, building on our relationship with I CAN and our in-depth understanding of the success factors and challenges in early intervention SLC development, to inform the roll-out of this large-scale training programme.