Ofsted thumbs up for nurture groups

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Nurture groups make a big difference to the behaviour and social skills of children who might otherwise be at risk of exclusion, says an Ofsted report.

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Inspectors visited 29 schools where 379 pupils between the age of four and 11 were attending a nurture group. They found that the majority of pupils attending groups were making substantial progress with their behavioural, social and emotional skills. The most successful groups placed a strong focus on developing literacy and numeracy skills.

Many of the schools viewed children's ability to complete basic skills as a key factor in raising their self-esteem, and judged the success of the nurture group on the pupil's successful reintegration to their main class.

Pupils who attended the nurture groups - small teaching groups to help vulnerable children manage their behaviour - had previously been excluded from school, were in danger of permanent exclusion or of being moved to a special school.

Ofsted inspectors also interviewed parents and carers of children attending nurture groups. Of the 95 parents and carers they spoke to, the majority said the nurture group had helped their children become calmer, happier and more confident. They also reported an increase in their own confidence when managing their behaviour.

While Ofsted's report, Supporting children with challenging behaviour through a nurture group approach, recognises the benefits of nurture groups, it warns that they alone can not support vulnerable children in need, and that schools need to provide a nurturing environment and ensure families are supported. It also recommends schools ensure pupils in groups make academic as well as social progress.

Marian Evans, chair of the board of trustees for the Nurture Group Network (NGN), which runs training and support for nurture groups, said, 'NGN is delighted the Ofsted report acknowledges excellent training in nurture group theory and practice results in well-run nurture groups. Excellent progress is made across the curriculum, as well as raising self-esteem and ensuring the development of social skills. When barriers to learning are overcome in nurture groups, pupils are able to reach their full potential.'

CASE STUDY: Tottenhall Infant School and Children's Centre, Palmers Green, London

A nurture group was set up here in 1986. The group offers places for a period of four to five terms for up to ten children aged four to seven-years-old who display a lot of emotional anxiety. Known as the Rainbow Class, the group is fully funded by Enfield Council and has been shown to improve 80 per cent of vulnerable pupils' behaviour, attendance and attainment.

Head Clare Clarke said, 'Most of the children who attend the group have suffered trauma, usually in the first year of life. These children either become withdrawn or act with anger and aggression. Rainbow's specialist teacher Wendy Harrison and experienced assistant Marian Showumi are consistent with the children and set boundaries so they can emerge with an improved sense of self and maintain trusting relationships with their peers and adults.

'All the children register with their mainstream class before they are collected by Rainbow staff. Depending on a child's needs, they may spend the whole day or only a proportion of their day in the Rainbow class and rejoin their peers for those subjects at which they excel. For the final half hour of the school day, children join their class for story time. This is when parents can drop in to Rainbow class to chat to the staff about their concerns and staff can share with them the successes of the day.'

She added, 'The group works well when parents work alongside us. Parents and staff working together can really inspire vulnerable children to prosper in mainstream school. The nurture group has also enhanced Tottenhall's emotional climate and made us a nurturing school.'

Further information: www.nurturegroups.org

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