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 a Senior and Safeguarding Lead of a large secondary and sixth form community school situated in North-East London.
Before we joined the programme, nurture practice was not really recognised as a legitimate approach. Normal school processes – assessments, data, numbers, results and targets – guided teachers’ decisions more than a pupil’s wellbeing needs. We never gave the time to meaningfully ask a pupil how they were and want to know the answer. The Covid-19 pandemic helped to change this prevailing attitude as it demanded a wider societal recognition of trauma and meeting needs. All levels of society were made to reflect on what really matters to people and schools had no option but to witness the partial breakdown of society and social norms whilst we were all being affected by the pandemic.
At the start of the programme, my knowledge of nurture practice was quite good, but now it is completely embedded in my practice. All decisions affecting a young person in our school are now made with a nurture focus, and relationships with staff and the way I frame conversations with them has also changed. Since adopting a more nurturing approach I feel that I have more support from our local authority services around social, emotional and mental health and I think that since the pandemic, there is a greater recognition of these needs from other agencies too. We may have arrived at this point regardless, but the programme allowed us to embed nurture practice earlier so that we could respond to the needs created by the pandemic at an earlier stage.
The school leadership recognised that if we continued our previous approach, we would continue to see the same results, so our school completely changed our behaviour system at the start of this year, moving away from exclusions and moving towards creating a space where young people build and rebuild relationships with staff across the school. We have numerous pupils who have not been excluded because nurture has changed the way we meet their needs. Now we check-in more, make space for them to voice their needs and make more reasonable adjustments and we find that we are managing them, they are managing themselves and they are staying in mainstream education. The unseen work of the nurturing approach is reaching across the school and our pupils are aware that things have changed. They have more faith in the system in which they find themselves in, and if they have made a mistake or are in trouble for something, now they don’t question that they aren’t punished or excluded – they trust that there will be a conversation or a reflection, rather than a sanction.
The PATTERN partnership programme afforded us the opportunity to have inspiring young people come in and work with our young people. Having adults that pupils could relate to, speak to and be honest with became such an important outlet for these vulnerable young people who were on the cusp of exclusion or big educational changes. They were made to feel secure and at ease which made them want to turn up! The pupils attending were at risk of truancy, but they attended consistently each week and enjoyed the sessions. I was constantly asked each week if the sessions were taking place and what the topic of discussion might be! These pupils already have excellent English teachers, but I think they got so much more from the PATTERN sessions than they were from their English classes.
The staff training offered by the programme really resonated and has helped us to spread the message of nurture and the importance of building relationships across staff teams. The networking meetings that I attended were excellent and really valuable for my own development. The toolboxes we received were well used during lockdown and have now been embedded into the curriculum for next year.
We will continue to move the school further in the nurturing approach because of the impact of the programme. The small things we have done and changed as a result of this programme – those small things have moved mountains for our young people and for the school.
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. For more information, please visit our website.