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Cultivating bonds

Nurture groups offer children with emotional needs an alternative to regular school. The children spend most of their time with the group, but join their regular form for assembly, playtime and lunchtime.

It's a small group of about 10 children, with one teacher and an assistant. That ratio is very important. It allows us to create a secure and intimate environment. The work we do is still curriculum-based but we try to be flexible, and there's a strong emphasis on social development. Most of the children are academically bright - it's social difficulties that get in the way of their learning.

Our nurture group was started 20 years ago, making it one of the oldest in the country, but when I took over as teacher I had to be trained. The course is spread over four days and is part theory, part practice. You look at attachment theory and study how children react if they don't have secure emotional bonds. You also undertake a detailed case study, observing a child and coming up with ideas for how a nurture group could help them.

We've had so many success stories. We recently had a little girl who was very quiet in class. She wouldn't interact and always seemed tired and hungry. We brought her into the nurture group and spent a lot of time doing role-play and working with puppets. She's now confident and communicative. Her form teacher was new to the school and simply couldn't believe there had ever been a problem.

Helen Charalambous is the nurture group teacher at Carterhatch Infant School in Enfield, north London. She was talking to Steven Hastings

The details

Understanding the Theory and Practice of Nurture Groups is run by the Institute of Education in London. Cost pound;560.

For details and dates, email

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