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Life is sweeter in nurture groups

A group for disruptive infants has had huge benefits. Felicity Waters reports

A special facility for children as young as four at risk of being excluded has seen a 70 per cent success rate in re-integrating them back into mainstream education.

Children from Torfaen who misbehave in class and would otherwise be suspended from school are being sent to a nurture group where specialist staff are on hand to help them address their problems. The first year has been such a success that teachers are confident the methods used could even help drive down exclusion rates further down the line in secondary schools.

The specialist tuition is costing the local education authority around Pounds 10,000 a year per pupil, but supporters say it is helping change the course of youngsters' lives as well as saving money in the long run.

"Before this was available, these children would be the ones at risk of exclusion," said Julie Tucker, head of Fairwater infants, Cwmbran, where the group is based.

"You have to tackle these issues young, otherwise it's too late."

A maximum of 10 pupils can attend the group at any one time and are referred from all over the borough. The children have a teacher and two support assistants, as well as speech and language therapists and educational psychologists to help with behavioural or emotional difficulties.

Children are taught for four days a week at the nurture group and return to their home school for one day. The concept, which was praised in a recent Estyn inspection, is based on learning through play, developing social skills and addressing underlying problems.

"The care on offer in this class is the key to its success," said Julie Tucker. "The children do things like make toast at break-time, sit together at lunchtime with the teachers and they have lots of contact with staff."

Before the service was available, teachers would often be forced to stop a class for the safety of other children or exclude disruptive pupils, explained Mrs Tucker. Now, those who have been referred come back to class able to sit quietly and learn.

"I see so many children who would benefit from this kind of early intervention," she said. "It's expensive but it works, and we need to be courageous and accept that we may not see the results in the short term, but the long term savings could be huge."

Managers at Torafen LEA are keen to continue with the existing facility but the cost means they may not be able to set up similar projects throughout the borough.

"The costs are quite substantial," said Mike de Val, Torfaen's education director. "But so many things that we do are quite reactive and that's expensive. The nurture group could save money in the future. We have every intention of maintaining it."

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