On the 25th September Jayne Bryant, Labour Welsh Assembly Member (AM) for Newport West, tabled a debate on “Wales’s whole school approach: Supporting all children to flourish, learn and succeed in schools” in the Welsh Assembly.
Opening the debate, Bryant spoke about the importance of early experiences in a person’s life, saying that “attitudes, beliefs and behaviours learnt during these very early years are often carried into adulthood”. She then highlighted the mounting evidence that “if we get things right early on” this will have a “a positive impact on not only the individual, but on society as a whole.”
She also pointed to the conclusion that the Welsh Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee came to in their ‘Mind over Matter’ report that “school settings are key to promoting emotional well-being and good mental health”.
Bryant then highlighted excellent whole-school approaches in her own constituency including Pillgwenlly Primary School, which opened its first nurture group in 2004, and Malpas Court Primary School which has been on the National Nurturing Schools Programme for one year and recently opened its first nurture group.
Our National Nurturing Schools Programme supports schools to apply the principles which have underpinned nurture groups for 50 years across their whole-school.
Bryant also praised nurture approaches for helping the most disadvantaged children and noted that nurture approaches have now been running for 50 years.
Hefin David, Labour AM for Caerphilly, then raised another school which takes a whole-school approach to nurture: Nant-y-Parc in the Aber Valley. At the school, teachers make “daily efforts to understand the emotional needs of pupils” as well as running emotional literacy groups and offering support for staff well-being. He quoted a staff member who said that: “Placing a high emphasis on well-being allows staff and pupils to feel valued. It’s allowed me to form positive working relationships and I feel motivated to give to pupils as I feel appreciated.”
Ysgol Ty Ffynnon, the first school in Wales to complete the two-year National Nurturing Schools Programme, was then praised by Jack Sargeant, Labour AM for Alyn and Deeside. Sargeant endorsed the programme for other schools and described how “the whole school has embraced the six principles of nurture” and “how nurture group sessions allow their pupils to take part in activities that develop self-awareness, build self-esteem, perseverance and positive thinking.”
Following on from this, John Griffiths, Labour AM for Newport East spoke about how important it was for children to get the best start in life and spoke about how “none of us know what life may throw at us” which means “developing that emotional resilience is so important for the whole of our life course.”
He then said how Somerton Primary, one of his local primary schools had been recognised by Estyn for their excellent nurture approach. He said that “the staff there believe it’s made a real, positive difference to the pupils in that school” and quoted a staff member who had said, “it has really helped a significant change for the better, with growing confidence and self-esteem, sharing and co-operating, and producing better strategies to cope in different social situations. Behaviour and attitudes to learning have all improved.”
Mark Isherwood, Welsh Conservative AM for North Wales region praised not only Ysgol Ty Ffynnon but also Ysgol Maesincla in Caernarfon. Isherwood has previously noted the issue of exclusions and how these affect pupils with additional learning needs and pointed to how Ysgol Maesincla has seen a reduction in exclusions since it opened its nurture groups and adopted a whole-school approach to nurture.
Finally, Education Minister and Liberal Democrat AM for Brecon and Radnorshire Kirsty Williams responded to the points raised by AMs. The minister noted that more and more schools were recognising nurture groups as a “proven means” to support both primary and secondary pupils. The minister then went on to highlight how nurture groups are effective in supporting children who’ve experienced trauma and how they can help build bridges with parents to support children’s learning, especially when those parents may not have had positive experiences of school themselves.
We were delighted to see so many AMs from different political parties praise nurture schools in their constituencies. Nurture teachers work hard to deliver the best outcomes for their pupils and we were very pleased to see their work recognised in this way.
We have welcomed much of the progress made in Wales in recent years to promote pupil-wellbeing. Wales’s new curriculum emphasizes the importance of wellbeing and the principles of the National Nurturing Schools Programme supports many of the curriculum’s elements. The Children, Young People and Education Committee, chaired by Lynne Neagle AM has been a champion of children’s social, emotional and mental wellbeing, particularly through its ‘Mind Over Matter’ report. This debate was a welcome confirmation of the Welsh Government and Welsh Assembly’s commitment to whole-school approaches to wellbeing and AMs appreciation of nurture’s role within this.