What is a nurture group?

A nurture group is a small group of 6 to 12 students usually based in a mainstream educational setting and staffed by two supportive adults. Nurture groups offer a short term, focused intervention which addresses barriers to learning arising from social, emotional or behavioural difficulties (SEBD), in an inclusive, supportive manner. Children and young people continue to remain part of their own class group and usually return full time within 4 terms.

There are examples of nurture groups now in early-years settings, primary and secondary schools, PRUs and Special Schools.


Do nurture groups work?

Yes. They have been in operation for over 45 years, with numerous evaluations evidencing their success.  Pupils, parents, teachers, support assistants all refer to nurture groups as an effective intervention strategy.

To date, five nonrandomised studies which included 1239 children and young people show that students with SEBD are significantly more likely to improve in social and emotional functioning and academic achievement by attending NG provision for at least two terms rather than remaining in their mainstream classroom.  These findings were made by comparing the improvements of students with SEBD in nurture groups to students that remained in their mainstream classroom and were matched by age, gender, educational attainment and SEBD.

Over six government papers and reports have endorsed nurture group provision also including the Green Paper “Excellence for All Children” (1997), the Steer Report (2005), Ofsted’s “Supporting Children with Challenging Behaviour” (2011), the Healthy Schools Toolkit (2012) the Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools Report (2014), and Estyn’s Report “Attendance in Secondary Schools” (2014)


How do nurture groups actually work in practice?
The nurture group classroom is a hybrid of home and school environments with soft furnishings, kitchen and dining facilities.  The two adults are always present in the room, and their positive interactions serve as model for cooperation.  The NG staff engage intensely with each student, within a daily routine that is explicit, uniform and predictable; activities undertaken include emotional literacy sessions, news-sharing, group activities, curriculum tasks and nurture breakfast.  The social and developmental targets for each student in Nurture Group are devised on the Boxall Profile which is a detailed psychometric assessment of their social, emotional and behavioural functioning.


Do nurture groups support all children with SEN / Additional Support Needs?

No. They have been specifically designed to support children and young people whose barriers to learning fall into the category of SEBD who for a variety of reasons have not developed those necessary early skills essential to thriving in the mainstream classroom: trust of adults; self-esteem; empathy; cooperation skills; self-control; positive relationships with peers; and language and communication skills.  However, these barriers to learning can effect and impact on pupils of all ability levels. Children can however have other additional needs, but for a nurture group approach their primary barrier to learning is expected to be social, emotional or behavioural.

An additional benefit of nurture groups is that, as the close relationship with a student develops it may enable other previously unnoticed underlying needs to be identified and then referred on to the appropriate agency / professional for a formal diagnosis and the most appropriate intervention implemented.


Do they support Looked after Children (LAC)?

Yes. Nurture groups have had particular success in this area. Many LAC have not experienced or had sufficient variety of opportunities or consistency of approach to develop the necessary skills to cope with the demands of an educational setting.  47% of 2,203 young people in care, getting social care services, or living away from home in boarding or other residential schools or colleges, thought they had emotional or mental health problems. (Department for Education, 2014)  Many students in care have special educational needs (38%) which are not being met in mainstream classrooms, and it is worrying that 7 out of 10 of all permanent exclusions involve students with SEN (Department for Education, 2014).  Nurture groups can provide the environment, staff, curriculum and social grouping to develop skills for LAC whilst also developing resilience and enabling the children / young people to achieve their potential.


How are nurture groups funded?

This varies considerably from area to area.

Individual schools will often find the necessary funding from a variety of sources, or will deploy staff from within their own establishment resources.

Some councils do fully fund or partially fund nurture group provision.

There have also been pilots funded for example by the Scottish and Welsh Governments and other centrally funded government bodies.

Evaluations from LAs and individual schools have demonstrated that nurture groups are the most economically sustainable support programme for children with SEBD.  Though nurture group provision is estimated at approximately £5,500 per annum, this cost decreases to £1,883 per child in an established, classic nurture group that has up to 30 children throughout the year.


How many nurture groups are there?

The full number is not known, as sometimes they are called by other names and may not be registered with nurtureuk, although they do adopt nurture group philosophies and practices.

nurtureuk is aware of over 2100 groups currently in operation across the UK, with others in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Malta.


Is it just younger children that nurture groups support?

No. A pilot study conducted by nurtureuk in 2014 of over 100 nurture groups in both primary and secondary schools found that both children and young adults show significant improvements from nurture group provision.  Attachment can no longer be thought of as “a once-and-for-all event that must take place in a critical period.  Knowledge guides emotion more than emotion distorts knowledge.” (Gopnik et al., 1999)  However, the optimum situation is for nurture groups to be in place as early as possible.


Is there training available and is it accredited?

Yes, nurtureuk recommends that all nurture group staff complete the Theory and Practice of Nurture Groups course, accredited by Edge Hill our partner University, prior to setting up a nurture group. In this way the underlying theories and practices are understood and implemented to ensure a consistent, quality resource is established. There are also a number of additional complementary courses available from nurtureuk, with the flexibility to customise the training to suit individual requirements, e.g. whole staff training.


Where is the training delivered?

Everywhere! We travel the length and breadth of the UK to ensure everyone has access to our three day accredited course and our new short courses. You can find out if we are coming to your area by visiting our Training page.


Does nurtureuk only recommend a full time, classic Boxall group?

For children with a significant profile of needs, it is recommended that an 80% model is run in primary school settings, to ensure the needs are addressed in as short a time as possible. Experience shows that a quick, successful impact requires a regular, focused intervention. This provides the correct amount of time necessary to ensure the required strategies have been fully adapted and internalised by the student for successful transfer to the mainstream classroom.

However nurtureuk has always recommended flexibility according to individual school and pupil needs. If the outcomes can be successfully achieved in a part time model, where a minimum of 4 sessions per week is provided for the children, then this too is good practice and often makes reintegration much easier.

Other settings, such as secondary schools, SEN schools, Early Years establishments, and PRUs a flexible approach.


What assessments are normally used to inform nurture group practice and monitor progress?

Central to nurture group philosophy and practice is The Boxall Profile or Boxall Profile for Young People (BPYP). It provides a framework for the structured observation of children / young people to assess their barriers to learning arising from social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, whilst also identifying the individual strengths too. The Boxall Profile not only assesses need but is used to set personalised targets for each student, along with monitoring their progress and outcomes.


What age range is the Boxall Profile suitable for?

The Boxall Profile is standardised for children aged 4 to 11 years and the BPYP is standardised for young people aged 11 to 14 years.


Are there other publications available to purchase from nurtureuk?

Yes. There are currently a range of other publications, which are extremely popular and found to be very useful and informative. See the publications page for further details.


What is the underlying theory behind nurture groups?

That unconditional positive regard is the most powerful mechanism for change.

There primary theoretical model that underpins the effectiveness of nurture group provision is John Bowlby’s (1965) attachment theory which argues that children acquire age-appropriate behaviour through interactions with significant others.  These relationships allow the child to locate themselves as distinct individuals in relation to other people – a fundamental psychological base required for learning.  If a child’s early experiences were characterised by missing or distorted nurturing, it can lead to stunted social, emotional and cognitive development.  By providing another opportunity to internalise models of effective relationships and form attachments to supportive and caring adults, nurture groups develop vulnerable children’s social and emotional functioning in order to reintegrate them into mainstream schooling in the long term. 


Why do we need nurture groups?

20% of children and young people in the UK have some form of social, emotional or behavioural difficulty. (Costello et al. 2005)    Most social, emotional and behavioural difficulties are not transient problems; childhood conduct disorders predict all adult disorders (including psychosis), and half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14. (Mental Health Foundation, 2014) 

There is a very urgent need for psychosocial interventions for children and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds.  A longitudinal study conducted by McGloin and Widom (2001) found that only one fifth of abused and neglected youth experienced successful employment, only 50% graduated from secondary school and over half had a psychiatric disorder.  It is worrying to note that children and young adults who grow up in families with parental problems are growing in number, “International estimates indicate that 39% of all children have parents with mental health problems; 40% are affected by domestic violence; and 30% grow up with at least one problem drinking parent.” (Skerfving et al., 2014, p.2)  As the founder of nurture groups, the educational psychologist Marjorie Boxall concluded, “Despite government policies, deprivation is still a downwards and inwardly spiralling process of despair and depression; nurture is an upwards and outwardly spiralling process of hope and growth.  We believe that the investment of our capital of good nurture for the future is of the utmost importance.  It would be logical to make this provision available at the earliest stage to all children and young people at risk of personal and school failure, and the disastrous future that so often lies ahead.” (2010, 21)