Nurture at 50: a timeline


Whilst working in Hackney, Marjorie Boxall, then employed as an educational psychologist employed by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), noticed that large numbers of young children were entering primary school with severe emotional, behavioural, and social difficulties. This was leading to unmanageable rates of referrals to special schools or for child guidance treatment. She understood the difficulties presented by most of these children as impoverished early nurturing.

At the time, these children were considered “maladapted” but Marjorie understood the difficulties presented by most of them were the outcome of impoverished early nurturing. Nurture groups were designed to provide “restorative experiences and development experiences” to these pre-nursery aged children, many of which came from difficult socioeconomic backgrounds – with the children of West-Indian migrants, now known as the Windrush Generation, making up a substantial part of the initial nurture cohort.


After the pilot scheme proved successful, the first non-pilot nurture groups were set up in London. Among the first schools to take part was Kingsmead Infants School in Hackney, whose nurture group was lead by future Kingsmead headteacher and nurture pioneer Sylvia Lucas.

Initially, news spread of nurture groups and their effectiveness from school to school by word of mouth, but they quickly found recognition in the form of the influential “Warnock Report” in 1978, which stated that: “Among compensatory measures which may be taken we have been impressed by the ‘nurture groups’ which have been started in a number of primary schools in London for children approaching or over the age of five who are socially and emotionally affected by severe deprivation in early childhood.”


By the mid-eighties, the ILEA was in the vanguard of a national campaign for an inclusive education system. A committee was set up with John Fish to explore how to go about building such an education system. Upwards of 50 headteachers of schools with nurture groups made submissions to the committee, arguing in the strongest terms that nurture groups were integral to the inclusive approach.

The committee produced a report, Educational Opportunities For All?, which was met with national acclaim, and made the following observation regarding nurture:

“The concept of nurture work … for children who have not experienced many common domestic … learning experiences, or whose stressful experiences have prevented them from profiting from them, is an important one. Much has been learned from this form of provision which could inform other special educational arrangements. Because it is based in schools, where the teachers work closely with others in the school it can help teachers of other classes gain insight and provide for children who might have special educational needs … As an approach with a clear rationale aimed at preventing many difficulties becoming special educational needs, it is to be endorsed.”


In 1989, nurturing provision suffers a twin setback that sees its growth not only halted, but reversed. Marjorie Boxall, who had been central to the training and support of the nurture group staff, retired. Simultaneously, the Inner London Education Authority, which had supported the research and provided the financial support that many nurture groups were reliant upon, was in the process of being disbanded following the abolition of the Greater London Council by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.

Without support from the ILEA, schools in the inner London boroughs that had once acted as incubators for the most innovative nurturing practice saw their nurture groups scaled back or shut down completely. A handful of outer London boroughs, such as Enfield and Redbridge, sought to keep nurturing practice alive, but nurture’s annus horribilis saw its stature greatly reduced on the national stage.


The Association of Workers for Children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (AWCEBD), concerned with the effects of the 1988 Education Reform Act, had been working to restore nurture to the national agenda for a number of years. A publication written by Marjorie Boxall and Marion Bennathan, Effective Intervention in Primary Schools: Nurture Groups, drew on the work of Eva Holmes, principal educational psychologist in Enfield.

The publication proved to be a success and a round of conferences was set up that lead to renewed interest in nurture and calls for training in nurture group work. Over the next few years, the AWCEBD would use the evidential benefits of nurture groups found in Enfield to lobby the Department for Education for an expansion of support for nurturing provision. In order to provide that provision, training would be required, and training required greater organisation – and so the Nurture Group Consortium was formed. 


At the turn of the millennium, when it had become clear that the level of interest in nurture and nurture group training required a more systematic, networked approach, the Nurture Group Consortium became no more. In its place, after a vote at the AWCEBD council in 2001, the Nurture Group Network was born and Marion Bennathan became its first director – though it would be four years before the Nurture Group Network became a charity in its own right.

Sadly, Marjorie Boxall would pass away in 2004 before seeing the Nurture Group Network become fully independent. She did, however, leave a significant legacy in support of the charity that allowed it to expand exponentially in the years after her death – gaining its own office, more full-time staff, and developing its training network, as well as establishing a magazine, and an accreditation that could be conferred upon nurture groups displaying excellence in nurturing practice. To reflect Marjorie’s incredible contribution, the accreditation was named the Marjorie Boxall Quality Mark Award.


For much of the 2010s, the Nurture Group Network continued to grow – eventually taking the Boxall Profile Online to make the identification of social, emotional and mental health need among students easier than ever before for teachers. To reflect the Nurture Group Network’s growth, and its national ambitions, the organisation was rebranded nurtureuk in 2018.

With more schools than ever applying for Marjorie Boxall Quality Mark Awards and taking part in our National Nurturing Schools Programme, nurture has been returned to the educational agenda in a big way – with our #AspireNotToExclude campaign and Now You See Us report into whole-school Boxall-Profiling making national news.


After 50 years of fighting for the mental health and wellbeing of children with social, emotional, and mental health issues, nurtureuk is celebrating a half-century of nurture by asking its members and supporters to #pledge50.

Whether that’s donating £50, volunteering 50 minutes of your time, or inviting 50 friends to like nurtureuk’s social media accounts, any help you can give to help us build an inclusive education system would be appreciated.

From the streets of Hackney, to Belfast, Helensburgh, and even New Delhi, nurtureuk have been helping children fulfil their potential for 50 years. #pledge50 today to help us build more golden futures for children across the world.