“Just naughty”: the impact of understanding underlying needs

23 August 2023

We know that a nurturing approach can have an incredible effect on the lives of children and young people, and we love to hear about the real-life impact it has in the schools we work with. The following case study was from a school on our Nurturing London Violence Reduction Unit Programme which finished in 2022. The storyteller is the head of inclusion and leads a nurture specialist support centre in North London. 


Our school had already embarked on a journey to transform our behaviour policy towards a much more nurturing approach that reflected our values and objectives as a school. My role was to facilitate this transformation with our members of staff, so when the programme came along I recognised the potential for what was offered to help us move the transformation along. The big difference for me was that this was tried-and-tested practice that provided a solid evidence base going back 50 years; I knew that having the kind of evidence you can’t argue with would help to convince some reluctant staff members that there was value and merit in adopting a more nurturing and trauma-informed approach to understanding and dealing with behaviour. Before we joined the programme, there were pockets of excellent nurturing practice already happening in the school, but this was by no means across the board.

Our school is lucky to have a Therapeutic Wellbeing Practitioner on staff who works with both children and staff. All staff had received previous training in supporting our pupils’ social and emotional development but I noticed that it was the ethos of individual teachers who were naturally more nurturing in their approach that was making a difference with individual pupils. 

I feel that the main internal barrier we had as a school in terms of becoming more nurturing, was the fixed behaviourist mindset that many staff had in understanding behaviour. Some staff had pre-existing opinions about nurture somehow being a “soft approach that is all about cuddles”. This attitude, as well as the pressures to deliver the curriculum which is target based, left little inclination or time for staff to consider a more nurturing approach.

Additionally, the pandemic and resulting lockdowns and bubbles was a really big challenge to our whole school community. We experienced illness, with many of our staff becoming unwell and we also experienced loss, with two of our pupils losing parents to the virus.

There were three elements of the programme that were key to our school becoming a more nurturing place – training, resources and the relationship we have built with our nurtureuk consultant. The Wellbeing Box of resources was very well received by staff and pupils in our nurture centre, particularly the puppets. We find these very useful in communicating with our pupils and a useful tool to facilitate conversations and give pupils an effective way to voice their feelings and emotions. 

Completing the Theory and Practice of Nurture Groups training fortified and solidified our practice in the nurture centre and gave me the confidence and knowledge to set up the physical environment in the most effective way. The course gave us the building blocks to inform more nurturing thinking and gave us the knowledge to explore the factors behind behaviour and to discuss and find solutions in-house. I found the relationship we built with our nurtureuk consultant through the project to be really helpful and this was also true for the wider staff who met her during training sessions. They felt that they could approach someone with specialist knowledge who could provide advice and answers for our specific context.

After we completed the nurture group training, I noticed positive changes in the way we practised in the nurture centre. This was especially evident in the work of the nursery nurses now as they are more empowered to integrate the curriculum into the daily practice. We discuss the planning for individual pupils together as a team and each staff member supports each other in implementing the plans, which is much more effective.

Having access to the Boxall Profile® Online has made it quick and easy for us to access and complete assessments for the pupils placed in our provision for a usual period of 12 weeks. The information from the Boxall Profile®, particularly from the Developmental Strands, makes it possible for us to focus the support and identify strategies that will be effective. Using the information, we are able to understand the complex needs behind the behaviour preventing the pupil from attending their mainstream classes at the time that they come to us. We are able to communicate to the school and the parents some of that insight into understanding the need better and we are also able to set expectations about the progress we hope to make in the time that the pupil is with us.

One of our pupils attended a mainstream school where the staff body had very little knowledge and experience of nurture. As a result of this, they had not managed to identify any of his underlying needs and was labelled as “just naughty” when he started with us. He was very explosive and appeared to need to maintain absolute control with both the adults and the other children in the classroom. He had a complicated family environment where there was a history of addiction and also a history of learning difficulties. We were able to identify his strengths very early on and were able to work with these as well as establishing a warm and positive relationship with his parents. Our knowledge and our willingness to find solutions has really paid off and he is a great success story of someone who would likely have been excluded from his mainstream environment and been seen as a failure. His success in our environment has seen him accepted at a smaller one-form entry school that has an established nurturing ethos, which was facilitated by our staff. His parents are overjoyed seeing his progress and seeing him settled in an environment where he will thrive. 


We are delighted to have been commissioned by the London Violence Reduction Unit to deliver a new programme alongside delivery partners Tender. The Inclusive and Nurturing Schools Programme aims to tackle school exclusions across 70 schools in seven London Boroughs. 

If you’d like to find out more about our nurture training, please visit our website.