50 years of nurture in policy
Originally, nurture approaches and practice spread through word of mouth and the sharing best practice between teachers. Even without a formal organisation to support them, nurture groups earnt recognition from policymakers in landmark reports like the Warnock Report. The foundation of nurtureuk's predecessors, the Nurture Group Consortium and then the Nurture Group Network helped to increase the recognition of nurture groups in policy. Today, nurture programmes have been recognised by the school inspectors and policymakers in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Marjorie Boxall, an educational psychologist employed by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and based in Hackney, starts the first nurture groups in response to high numbers of children with severe social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
The historic ‘Warnock Report’ into special educational needs provision in schools is published. Warnock writes that the team were “impressed” by nurture groups in London. The report noted that many of the children the groups were supporting “were suffering from severe emotional disturbance” linked to the disadvantages of their “impoverished environment combined with cultural confusion and a poorly developed sense of identity.”
The ILEA set up a committee to examine inclusive education. By this point, nurture groups are established in approximately 50 London schools. The committee priased them in its nationally-acclaimed report ‘Educational Opportunities for All?’ The report highlighted the importance of nurture work and endorsed nurture approaches for “preventing many difficulties becoming special educational needs”. The report mentioned that many schools saw these groups as an important hub to support special educational needs throughout the whole school.
The Department for Education and Emplyment’s green paper ‘Excellent for all children: Meeting Special Educational Needs’ is published and praised for aligning the government’s position with the international movement aiming at inclusive education. The report highlights the special challenges children with social emotional and behavioural difficulties represented and noted that the number of children within this group who were perceived as failing was increasing. The paper highlighted nurture groups in Enfield as an example of good practice and said that because of these groups “many pupils are able to function wholly within a mainstream class within a year.”
Meeting Special Education Needs, A Programme of Action is published by the National Advisory Group on Special Educational Needs. It announces a "national programme" to "help primary schools tackle emotional and behavioural difficulties at an early stage". The report also outlines a project, run in partnership with the University of Cambridge and the Association of Workers for Children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties to promote primary school nurture groups. This project then leads to a certificate course at Cambridge Universtiy. It was in response to feedback from these graduates about the need to support nurture approaches that the Nurture Group Network, now nurtureuk, was formed in 2000.
‘Social Inclusion: Pupil Support’, is issued by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in collaboration with the Social Exclusion Unit, the Home Office and the Department of Health. The paper acknowledged that pupils with emotional and/or behavioural difficulties are at particular risk of poor attendance or of exclusion. Again attention was drawn to the effective early intervention provided in Enfield by nurture groups.
The DfES publishes ‘The Report of the Practitioners’ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline’, commonly called the Steer Report after the group’s Chair Sir Alan Steer. The report highlights nurture groups in detail.
The report says that nurture groups help children “re-establish good relationships with adults” and that they begin to see school as a place where they experience success” which can be “highly beneficial effects on pupils’ motivation, engagement with school and standards of behaviour.
One of the recommendations from the report is that schools should create opportunities for staff to learn from the expertise of those with a particular responsibility for pupils with challenging behaviour such as nurture group teachers. This is an early acknowledgement of the value that nurturing approaches can provide to teachers in mainstream classes, something that is now incorporated into the National Nurturing Schools Programme.
Ofsted publishes a report on nurture groups approaches titled ‘Supporting children with challenging behaviour through a nurture group approach’. The inspectors examined nurture provision across 29 primary and infant schools. The report concluded that where nurture groups “were working well they made a considerable difference to the behaviour and the social skills of the pupils who attended them.”
The inspectors spoke to parent of nurture group children who told them that they had seen “children’s behaviour transform over time. They spoke of their children being calmer, happier and more confident, both at home and school, and of their own greater confidence in managing their children’s behaviour. One parent summed it up for most of the parents spoken to when she said, ‘The change in my child is amazing and unbelievable.’”
The report recommends that local authorities and the Department for Education take into account the substantial value of well-led and well-taught nurture groups when considering policies and guidance on early intervention and targeted support for pupils with behavioural, emotional and social needs.
Ofsted's report, ‘Pupil Premium: how schools are spending the funding successfully’ cites a case study of a school using a nurture group as an effective intervention at improving attendance saying, “pupils made considerable progress from their starting points, both in social, emotional and behavioural aspects and with their reading and writing skills. Attendance also improved for those for whom it was an issue”.
In Northern Ireland, The First Minister and Deputy First Minister announced the development of six Signature Projects under the Delivering Social Change framework aimed at tackling poverty and social exclusion and improving children’s wellbeing. This included the ‘nurture unit’ Signature Project which provided funding for 32 new nurture groups through to 2016.
The Scottish Government policy guidance ‘Better Relationships, Better Learning and Better Behaviour’ cites nurturing approaches as a widely-used intervention which promote positive behaviour.
The use of nurture as an intervention that has a positive impact on reducing the attainment gap is cited in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report ‘Closing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Education’.
Estyn highlights nurture groups within ‘Guidance for using the Pupil Deprivation Grant: What really works?’ Nurture groups are also recommended as an intervention in the Estyn report ‘Attendance in Secondary Schools’ in order to maximise pupil engagement.
The Scottish Government paper ‘What Works to Reduce Crime? A Summary of the Evidence’ says there is a range of evidence “which suggests a range of positive outcomes in terms of the social, emotional, behavioural and educational functioning of children” from nurture groups.
‘No Need to Exclude, a good practice guide for schools: Reducing exclusions by promoting the wellbeing of all’ is published by the Hackney Learning Trust. It highlights improved attendance and reduced exclusions resulting from nurture group provision.
An Estyn report on ‘Effective practice in improving attendance in primary schools’ states that “many schools that have improved pupils attendance use support groups, such as nurture groups and breakfast clubs, to encourage pupils to attend school more often”.
The Estyn report ‘Education other than at school: a good practice survey’ cites nurture groups as an in-school intervention that minimises the number of referrals to the local authority behaviour support team and improves attendance.
An Estyn case study of a nurture group in Romilly Primary School states that “pupils are happier in school and at home” as a result and that “pupils’ engagement in lessons has improved”, and “pupils’ confidence and life skills have been promoted”.
The Education and Training inspectorate of Northern Ireland publish a report on nurture groups. The find improvements in attendance, wellbeing and behaviour in the children attending nurture groups. It also recommended extending nurture group provision.
Queen’s University Belfast is commissioned by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to undertake an evaluation of nurture groups and examine the impact of the 30 groups then funded by the Department. The evaluation found the provision to be “highly successful in its primary aim of achieving improvements in the social, emotional and behavioural skills of children from deprived areas exhibiting significant difficulties”.
It found that, whilst 77.7% of children who entered nurture groups as part of the trial were exhibiting difficult behaviour this reduced to just 20.6% at post-test. However, for those children in the control schools, 62.8% of children exhibited difficult behaviour at the start of the year and this remained largely unchanged at post-test (61.9%). The study also found that in comparison with the estimated costs of providing other additional educational services to children with behavioural difficulties, nurture group provision presents direct savings to the education system and that investment in nurture groups is “cost-effective and represent significant economic return to society”
In light of this evidence the Northern Ireland Assembly agreed to mainstream funding for the groups established by the pilot project, and called for the opening of more nurture groups across the country.
An Estyn best practice report titled ‘Raising the attainment, achievement and aspiration of children who are looked after’ says that nurture groups are one of the features of schools which are the most effective in supporting children who are looked after.
Estyn review of health relationships education cited nurture groups in several case studies of schools demonstrating good practice in supporting pupils’ social and emotional wellbeing.
A nurturing approach is promoted as an effective intervention to reduce school exclusions and support positive relationships and behaviour in the Scottish Government’s strategy ‘Included, Engaged and Involved, part 2’. The document states there is a “long established evidence base for the use of Nurture Groups as a targeted approach to support children and young people but schools and local authorities are also increasingly seeing the benefits of using a Nurturing approach at the whole school level.”
Nurture groups are mentioned repeatedly in evidence given to the Welsh Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee’s inquiry into the emotional and mental health of children and young people. Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams highlighted that nurture groups can provide in-school support for children with attachment issues, and cited nurture groups as an example of good practice in providing the best possible environment to support children. A Estyn case study article on Cadoxton Primary School cited the benefits of mainstreaming a nurturing approach, with staff “taking what they had learnt from the nurture groups and applying the same philosophy to all classrooms, where pupils feel safe and secure at all times of the day”.
Education Scotland publishes the guidance ‘Applying Nurture as a Whole School Approach’. It states that “research clearly demonstrates the impact that Nurture Groups can have on attainment as well as social and emotional competences”. The guidance also sets out in detail how nurturing approaches are aligned with the Scottish Government’s national approach ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’, which places children and young people’s wellbeing at the centre of all assessment and plan
Education Scotland publishes the policy document ‘Nurture, Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma informed practice: Making the links between these approaches’ which sets out examples of good practice in applying nurturing approaches and cites the benefits of nurturing interventions in supporting young people who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
The Timpson Review on school exclusions in England is published. It says that nurture groups “can be an effective approach in reducing children’s social, emotional and behavioural difficulties while strengthening their academic performance.” It also calls for the government to establish a Practice Improvement Fund to support local authorities, mainstream, special and alternative provisions schools to deliver interventions such as nurture groups to support children at risk of exclusion.
Estyn’s June 2019 report, ‘Happy and Healthy: School impact on pupils’ health and wellbeing’ says that “when led well, nurture groups build positive relationships between adults and pupils as well as among the pupils, help pupils to develop their personal and social skills and increase pupils’ emotional resilience.”