Pilot study summary

8 October 2014 - Edurne Scott Loinaz

In March/April 2014, the Nurture Group Network conducted a pilot study of approximately 100 nurture groups; 139 children and young adults between the ages of 3- to 15-years old undergoing nurture group provision (Type 1, 2 or 3) were included in the study.  Using the anonymised pen profiles written by teachers, teaching assistants and SENCOs undertaking the NGN three-day certificate course, the study made the following findings:

Student characteristics

  • All children regardless of age significantly improved in their social and emotional functioning post-provision according to their Boxall Profile test scores (the significance judged on two-tailed, paired student’s t-tests).  The Boxall Profile is a detailed psychometric assessment of social, emotional and behavioural functioning.
  • The majority of the children in the primary study – 3 in every 5 – had experienced significant trauma in their lives, as well as the majority of secondary school students (85%).  These external stressors included separation from family, exposure to family conflict, abuse, divorce, a new home or school, illness and hospitalization, death of a loved one, parental drug exposure, and maternal depression. 
  • 19% of primary school students in NGs had a diagnosed psychiatric disorder; this increased to 42% of secondary school students in NGs.  The most common psychiatric disorder was ADHD. 

NG provision

  • The average Nurture Group in the primary study was a part-time model (5 mornings a week), established for less than a year and with 8 children. 
  • The average provision lasted 2-3 terms (KS1: 6 months; KS2: 7.5 months; KS3: 6.3 months; KS4: 7.1 months)   
  • All NG provisions had some positive effect (regardless of time established, setting, length of provision, full- or part-time model, and number of children attending NG), but the ideal NG provision for primary was still found to be a classic full-time nurture group run for three terms. 

What are the most common SEBD in nurture groups?

Primary Schools

The most common social, emotional and behavioural difficulties of children undergoing NG provision in primary school were the following:

Other reported SEBD included attention-seeking behaviour, stealing, swearing/verbal abuse, being confrontational, being excitable/erratic, feigning illness, self-harm, saying inappropriate comments/shouting in class, throwing things, lying, being anxious to please/need for constant reassurance, bullying, immaturity, being controlling, issues with food, speech problems, inability to share, encopresis, and destroying their own and others’ work. 

 Table 1:

As shown in Table 1 and Table 2, the primary and secondary school nurture pupils exhibiting unaggressive SEBD significantly increased their performance on the Developmental Strand of the Boxall Profile following the intervention as shown by the increase in scores (from blue to orange).  In addition, the pupil’s performance on the Diagnostic Profile of the Boxall Profile was also enhanced following the intervention, as shown by the decrease in the scores (from green to red). 

Secondary Schools

The most common social, emotional and behavioural difficulties of children undergoing NG provision in secondary schools were the following:

Other reported SEBD included swearing, leaving school, destroying work, anger issues, self-harm, moodiness, defiance and substance abuse. 

Table 2:

Who is the average nurture pupil?

In the pilot study he was a little boy in Key Stage One who lives with his single mother and at least one other sibling and has little to no contact with his father.  He is highly likely to have experienced significant trauma at some point in his life, and his mother is likely to suffer from some kind of mental illness.  His behaviour at school is most likely to be described as aggressive, uncooperative and distracted and he suffers from lack of self-esteem.  Though he is described as bright his volatile behaviour significantly hinders his academic progress.  He is more than likely to have a strained relationship with his peers and have no friends at school.  After NG provision he is likely to have at least one more friend at school, a better relationship with his parents/guardians, and be more likely to reach a state of attentive calm in the mainstream classroom which allows him to significantly improve his attainment, attendance and self-confidence. 

Are nurture groups only for children and young adults with SEBD struggling academically?

No.  Bright children achieving levels at or above age-appropriate targets made up half of the NG students in the study.  Regardless, both bright children and those that were below or significantly below average academically had similar gains in social and emotional functioning post-provision. 

Table 3:

These gains in emotional intelligence allowed students of all ages and academic levels – both in primary and secondary school – to adopt better ways of dealing with academic stress and have wider social networks concomitantly resulting in improved grades (as noted in their pen profiles).  This finding is also true of other social and emotional literacy programmes and psychosocial interventions which have found a link between gains in social and emotional functioning and greater academic performance (Eisenberg, Fabest et al, 2000; Guil, Mestre & Gil Olarte, 2004; Guil, Gil Olarte, Mestre & Núñez, 2005; Gil Olarte; Marquez et al, 2006); prosocial and other positive behaviours (Nellum, Williams 1997; Rubin, 1999; Johnson, 2002; Vorbach, 2002; Lopes et al., 2003; Denham et al., 2003; Lopes et al., 2004; Trinidad & Marquez et al., 2006); and finally, healthy attachments to school and community (Agostin And Bain, 1997; O'Neil, Welsh, Parke, Wang and Strand, 1997). 

Please contact florence@nurtureuk.org with any questions.