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£1.4m study to improve children’s language and communication skills

Posted on 10 November 2021

A pioneering study led by University of Bedfordshire to support children with language and communication needs – in collaboration with the Universities of Essex, York and the Open University – has just received £1.4m funding from the National Institute for Health Research (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’s Institute for Health Research (IHR), the E-PLAYS-2 project will evaluate the effectiveness of a fun, interactive game with the aim of improving communication in children with language difficulties.

The E-PLAYS game is played by children in pairs on inter-linking 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.

Dr Suzanne Murphy, Principle Research Fellow with the University of Bedfordshire, is project lead and will oversee a team that includes colleagues from IHR, the University of Essex, the Open University and the York Trials Unit at the University of York.

About the E-PLAYS-2 project, Dr Murphy 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.”

Professor Gurch Randhawa, Director of Bedfordshire’s IHR, added: “The Institute for Health Research has a proud tradition of applied health research. We are honoured to host this research that contributes to pandemic recovery and seeks to focus on the needs of children with communication difficulties.”

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 excited to get this innovative project off the ground.

Kamini Gadhok MBE – CEO of the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists – was delighted that NIHR had been able to fund this important project. She 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.”

Professor David Torgerson, Director of the York Trials Unit at the University of York, commented: “This study builds upon a successful pilot trial and the team have expertise from a number of studies among children and we are looking forward to working with colleagues to deliver a successful evaluation.”

Professor Andrew Church, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research & Innovation at the University of Bedfordshire, added: “We are delighted with this substantial funding from NIHR to undertake research addressing social inequalities for which the University has a strong local and international reputation.”

A full report of findings from EPLAYS-2 will be available in August 2025. Follow @UOB_IHR and @NIHRresearch on Twitter for updates and news relating to the project and its progress.

Details about research and PhD opportunities with the University of Bedfordshire’s Institute for Health Research can be found online: