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New study to improve children’s language and communication skills

Child at computer

Published: 10 November 2021

A programme of research to support children with language and communication needs has just received £1.4m funding from the NIHR, for a new strand of the E-PLAYS project.

EPLAYS-2 (Enhancing Pragmatic Language skills for Young children with Social communication impairments) will help inform and shape the vital learning support provided by schools for children with social communication impairments and language needs.

Pioneered by researchers from the University of Bedfordshire, the E-PLAYS-2 project will evaluate the effectiveness of a fun, interactive computer game with the aim of improving communication in children with language difficulties. 

The E-PLAYS game is played by children in pairs on interlinking school laptops. The game aims to develop children’s perspective-taking skills and language abilities by developing their confidence during social interaction.

The four-year study will take place in schools between now and August 2025. The study will involve over 1,000 children aged between five- and seven-years-old, from primary schools across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and North London. 

Chief Investigator, Dr Suzanne Murphy from the University of Bedfordshire, said: “I am thrilled that NIHR have decided to support this substantial trial into language difficulties which are so often misunderstood and overlooked. We hope to be able to provide schools with a useful programme to work with these young children.”

Collaborative and team-building skills are recognised as vital to children and young people, shaping future adult employment and the way they participate in society. It has been well documented that children’s language and communication skills have been hit by the pandemic, so the university and its partners are keen to get this innovative project off the ground.

Kamini Gadhok MBE, CEO of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, said: “Through this funding, the University of Bedfordshire will be able to explore new ways of improving children’s language and communication skills. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on many children’s development, so it’s more important than ever that schools, families and speech and language therapists come together to provide innovative support.”

The project has been funded by the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme. Find out more about the project on the NIHR Funding and Awards website.

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