Nurture Groups in secondary schools

5th July 2017 

NGN has compiled a list of the evidence currently available on the impact of nurture groups (NG) in secondary schools. Below you will find short summaries of academic articles, PhD theses and Ofsted reports all exploring the benefits and outcomes of NG in a secondary school setting. The list of references is provided at the end of the page. 

Overall, the evidence currently available suggests that NG do have a positive impact on both students attending them and the whole school. However, most of the evidence remains qualitative and comes from case studies and small-scale research projects. More quantitative studies (eg with larger sample sizes, stricter methodologies, including comparison groups, etc) are necessary to provide strong evidence for the impact of nurture in a secondary setting.

If you are aware of any article or report that you believe should be added to the list, please email Dr Florence Ruby at with the relavant information. 


Colley (2011) – PhD: The development of nurture groups in secondary schools
Colley’s thesis focused on: 1) Assessing the perceptions of professionals, students and parents regarding the effects of NG provision in a secondary school and 2) Modifying the Boxall Profile to better suit young people.  
In the first part of the PhD, the interviews collected from a small number of stakeholders revealed that NG were perceived as contributing to: the social and academic progress of individual students, positive long-term outcomes for students, improved school attendance and positive impact on the whole school ethos.
The second study investigated the modifications necessary to allow the Boxall Profile to be used effectively with secondary school students. Following the study, the Boxall Profile for Young People was created.

Colley (2009) – Nurture groups in secondary schools
In this article Colley reviews the evidence available regarding secondary NG and highlights differences between NG in a primary and a secondary setting.
Qualitative evidence illustrates that NG have a positive impact on vulnerable students similar to the impact seen in a primary setting – providing a safe base, helping them cope with the demands of a secondary school, with sudden trauma and with transition from primary to secondary, feeling more confident. NG have also impacted the whole school by involving the pastoral system, involving parents or involving other students that are not part of the NG.
Although secondary NG provide similar support to primary NG (eg with missed early experiences), they include additional support to deal with specific issues faced by young people (eg drugs, sex and alcohol problems). In additional, students can generally access less frequently the group within a week (3 sessions compared to 5 times in primary). Involving the NG in the whole school ethos may also vary compared to a primary school, and may only happen after mainstream teachers start seeing positive effects on NG students (ie credibility needs to be built first).
The needs for nurture in a secondary setting may also differ compared to the need for younger children, with more complex teenage issues related to self-image, peer relationships and loss and trauma may be more prevalent than distorted attachment issues observed in primary school children.

Cooke (2008) – The Oasis: nurture group provision for Key Stage 3 pupils
The author provides a case study of The Oasis, a NG with Key Stage 3 pupils. The articles begins with evidence from attachment theory that distorted attachments experienced in early years continue to impact children in adolescence, leading to poor mental health outcomes. In addition, evidence from neuroscience shows that the brain is still plastic during adolescence, which provides a window of opportunity for practitioners to restore missed early experiences and attachment. Altogether, the author draws on these arguments to support the claim that NG in secondary are appropriate.
The paper concludes with a description of the way in which a NG operates in a mainstream secondary school. The author also includes data from the Oasis students showing that most Boxall Profile scores improved following NG provision - when analysed as averaged scores for the whole group rather than individual pupils (number of pupils not known but most probably less than 12).

Estyn (2014) – Attendance in secondary schools
Estyn (the education and training inspectorate for Wales) published a report providing advice to school to improve attendance in secondary schools. Thy found that in Welsh schools “Pupil support centres and nurture groups are used to good effect and have enabled pupils to attend school more often. These vulnerable pupils receive high levels of support.” And one of their recommendations was for schools to “explore approaches such as restorative practice, pupil support centres, peer mentoring and nurture groups” to improve attendance.

Garner (2011) – The role and contribution of Nurture Groups in secondary schools: perceptions of children, parents and staff
Garner conducted a qualitative study using interviews with NG children and staff in 3 secondary schools. This research highlighted that NG can be implemented into a secondary setting and that they can provide beneficial support for children with SEBD. However, it also identifies that NG theory applied in a primary setting is not enough and needs to be adapted to the specific needs of young people, eg students may need extended NG support compared to a primary setting (more than 3 terms) probably because of the lack of support from the wider school and home.

Grantham (2017) - Investigating the fidelity and effectiveness of Nurture Groups in the secondary school context
The study explores the impact and fidelity of NG in seven secondary schools in Glasgow. Using Boxall Profiles collected before and after nurture intervention (n = 24), authors found significant increases in Developmental scores (for 9 out of 10 strands) and significant decreases in Diagnostic scores (4 out of 10), suggesting that the impact of nurture on behavioural difficulties may be less rapid than on the development of social emotional skills.
Factors contributing to the effectiveness of the NG included: support from the leadership team, wide application of nurture principles across the whole school, selection of pupils before transition between primary to secondary school, networking and collaboration with other secondary schools who have NG, and teachers possessing important skills (flexibility, resilience, care of young people’s needs, sense of humour). Finally the study found that secondary NG generally followed the NG principles applied in a primary setting. 

Kourmoulaki (2013) – Nurture groups in a Scottish secondary school: purpose, features, value and areas for development
Data in this study was collected through interviews with NG pupils, staff and parents. The study helped identify a variety of components of the NG:
A) Purpose of NG was identified as • being a refuge in the school •helping with transition in young people’s life and •preparing them physically and emotionally to learning.
B) Content of NG: • develop interpersonal and social skills and • later work on numeracy and literacy.
C) Characteristics of NG pupils: the reasons why pupils were attending the NG differed according to who was asked. Students through it was mostly because of difficulties with learning and social interactions; parents thought it was because of learning and behavioural issues, and teachers thought it was because of problems with peers or neglect at home.
D) Staff members’ attitudes were identified as • creating trusting relationships with students • offer advice and help if needed • being inclusive and listening to young people’s perspective.
E) The value of NG: feelings safe, creating a sense of belonging, supporting school readiness, developing social communication skills and anti-bullying strategies.

Lyon (2017) – A pilot study of the effectiveness of a nurture group in a secondary special school
Lyon conducted a small scale research study with 4 pupils attending a secondary special school. Overall the study suggests that the NG had an impact on the SEBD needs of the pupils, although the extent of the impact varied across the pupils. Results include:
• 3 out of 4 boys improved their ability to maintain their attention in mainstream class
• All 4 pupils showed an improvement in their school attendance and there was a decline in the days lost due to exclusions.
• Boxall data showed an improvement for all (although to different levels), in terms of social and emotional development and behavioural difficulties.  
• There was improvement in scores for the Pupil Attitude to Self and School questionnaire, which measures issues around confidence, resilience, motivation, concentration.
• All the interviews and surveys with parents/carers, staff and pupils were positive in relation to the impact of the NG.

Parsons (2012) – PhD: Nurture support for socially and emotionally vulnerable pupils in the transition to secondary school: a case study exploration
Parsons completed a small-scale study with interviews of a NG teacher and three pupils to identify how NG in a secondary school was benefiting vulnerable students with social emotional difficulties. She concludes that NG do have a role in supporting the transition of vulnerable children, and highlights that NG need to be following the key nurture principles while also being flexible enough to match the needs of the pupils.

Perkins (2017) – Improving our practice: a small-scale study of a secondary nurture group
Perkins did a small scale study with Year 7 pupils attending the NG in her school. The Boxall scores showed that more than 70% of pupils who attended the NG had reduced SEBD needs (but the data doesn’t separate between developmental and diagnostic strands).
NG children felt more confident, were trying harder in lessons and had more positive feelings about school compared to a comparison group of peers with similar needs but who didn’t receive NG provision.
Parental comments collected every fortnight were overwhelmingly positive and reflected that improvements in the social emotional skills observed in the NG often impacted the home environment as well. A majority of staff also thought the NG pupils were achieving on skills and abilities to a greater extent and more frequently than the comparison group pupils. For example, they were more enthusiastic about lessons, more compliant with rules (e.g. following instructions, settling to work, listening to the teacher) and better able to complete homework and class work.

Ofsted reports
Hawkley Hall High School (2006) –  Ofsted found that the nurture and inclusion centres at the school were providing additional support for pupils identified as being most vulnerable and the inspection report confirmed that this was having a very positive effect on improving student behaviour and self-esteem.
Riverside Community College (2007) – Ofsted highlighted that successful ‘Nurture Groups’ had been formed for Year 7 students who needed to improve their social, literacy and numeracy skills and enhance their self-esteem.
Shevington High School Wigan (2008) – Ofsted reported that the school provided outstanding pastoral care to its pupils and that its emphasis on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable was exemplary. There was very effective liaison with primary schools to identify pupils who are likely to face difficulties in making the transition to secondary school. These pupils were supported exceptionally well within a ‘diamond’ nurture group that provides a programme of support in a centre within school. This support was greatly valued by pupils and they clearly enjoyed the twice weekly lunch that was provided in the centre to extend social skills.



Colley, D. (2009). Nurture groups in secondary schools. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 14(4), 291–300.

Colley, D. (2011). The Development of Nurture Groups in Secondary Schools.

Cooke, C., Yeomans, J., & Parkes, J. (2008). The Oasis: nurture group provision for Key Stage 3 pupils. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 13(4), 291–303.

Estyn. (2014). Attendance in secondary schools. Retrieved from

Garner, J. (2010). Nurture Groups in Secondary Schools : Perceptions Parents of and Staff.

Grantham, R., & Primrose, F. (2017). Investigating the fidelity and effectiveness of Nurture Groups in the secondary school context. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 0(0), 1–18.

Kourmoulaki, A. (2013). Nurture Groups in a Scottish Secondary School: Purpose, Features, Value and Areas for Development. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 18(1), 60–76.

Lyon, L. (2017). A pilot study of the effectiveness of a nurture group in a secondary special school. International Journal of Nurture in Education, 3(April), 6–17.

Parsons, N. S. (2013). Nurture support for socially and emotionally vulnerable pupils in the transition to secondary school: a case study exploration. PQDT - UK & Ireland, D.Ed.Child. Retrieved from

Perkins, J. (2017). Improving our practice: a small-scale study of a secondary nurture group. International Journal of Nurture in Education, 3(April), 18–30.

Ofsted Report (2006). Hawkley Hall High School, Wigan.

Ofsted Report (2007) Riverside Community College, Leicester.

Ofsted Report (2008) Shevington High School, Wigan.