Preliminary evidence of benefits of nurture provision in a special school

26th June 2017

Today we introduce the work of Lisa Lyon, who conducted a small scale research project in her secondary special school. As a nurture practitioner, she wanted to know whether the nurture group had an impact on the pupils’ social emotional skills, their behaviour and their attitude towards school. Her article is freely accessible here

The research conducted by Lisa is a valuable addition to the nurture literature because it is, to our knowledge, one of the first published articles focusing on nurture in a special school setting. For many practitioners working with pupils with special needs, it will therefore be an important piece of evidence they can use to illustrate the benefits nurture can have with children with complex needs.

The study
To evaluate the impact of the nurture provision, Lisa focused on four pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 who attended the nurture group over a one year period. Lisa recorded a wide range of data, including Boxall Profiles which were completed three times during the year.

She also compiled data from the Pupil Attitude to Self and School (PASS) questionnaire, attendance and exclusion measures, observations in the nurture group and in mainstream class, and interviews with pupils, parents and staff.  

Outcomes of the nurture provision
The Boxall Profiles highlighted clear improvements in the social emotional functioning of the pupils. After one year of nurture  provision, all pupils had made considerable improvements on the Developmental Strand - reaching scores observed for competently functioning children. Clear reductions were also observed for the Diagnostic Profile highlighting improved behaviour (although scores remained outside the norms).  

Fig 1. Changes in Boxall Profile scores over a one year period for one pupil (Paul)

Compared to the previous year, pupils’ attendance and exclusions also improved, and self-reports on the PASS suggested increased self-confidence and resilience in school.

All the interviews with pupils, parents/carers and staff confirmed the results seen with quantitative data.

Interviews also showed that the nurture group had a positive image among all stakeholders.The two main reasons for the perceived success of the group were due to an improved environment (a calm room with clear structures and boundaries, a smaller group size) and more explicit teaching approaches (focusing on core skills for learning and social emotional skills).

Overall the outcomes of the nurture group in the special school were similar to the outcomes observed in other settings (eg primary or secondary schools). The four children with special needs included in the study had improved social emotional functioning and reduced behavioural difficulties following nurture provision. Altogether the study provides preliminary evidence that pupils with special needs can benefit from the structure and environment of a nurture group. 

Future research
The study is to our knowledge the first published evidence pointing towards the benefits of nurture in a special school setting. Nevertheless, further research is needed to better understand the impact of nurture on children with complex needs. Studies involving a larger number of pupils and several schools are essential to provide strong evidence and allow us to generalise the findings across the SEN population. Other questions such as the long-term improvements of social emotional skills and the impact on attainment of children with complex needs would also be a valuable addition to the literature. Finally it will also be interesting to compare and contrasts the outcomes of nurture in a special setting vs. a mainstream school.


If you would like to know more about Lisa’s research, you can access the full article here. For specific questions on her work, you can contact her at For general questions regarding nurture research, you can contact Dr Florence Ruby at