In a bid to reduce exclusions and improve the attendance and attainment of looked-after children, a West Lothian secondary has set up a nurture base.
Nurture groups, small classes where children with social, emotional and behavioural problems spend a substantial part of each week, have become a fairly common fixture in primary schools but in the more unwieldy secondary sector they have been slower to catch on.
Peter Reid, headteacher of Broxburn Academy, has blazed a trail, however, by setting up a base for a group of S3 and S4 pupils who were habitual non-attenders or exhibiting behavioural difficulties in class.
The teenagers, the majority of whom were looked after at home, were at risk of leaving school with no qualifications. They attended the nurture base for the entire school day and had all their lessons there. Alongside standard lessons, they were taught life skills such as cooking, growing vegetables, washing and ironing. Pupils in the base also helped to organise a charity coffee morning.
The base was a safe haven for the young people, explained Mr Reid. Pupil support worker Cheryl Stirling was a constant presence in it and became a mother figure, he added.
"The nurture base is somewhere they want to come," he said. "It's somewhere they can have fun and mix with other young people. They learn to respect and empathise with each other."
The school organised work experience for some of the group, while others attended Oatridge College one morning a week to study rural skills. The young people have now left school with a fistful of certificates, including a John Muir Award, a youth leadership certificate and biology, English and maths qualifications.
Most of the pupils attended the nurture base for a year, but others went back to mainstream classes after a few months.
"It really just depends on the child," said Mr Reid. "Some accept they need to stay at the base for a long time, others tell us when they feel it's time to move on."
To read more about the nurture base and other initiatives supporting looked-after children, visit bit.lyLXanky
Communication is key
A nurture group - as envisaged by the Nurture Group Network - is a small class of eight to 10 children who spend a substantial part of each week in the group, but remain part of their mainstream class. Each group has two specially-trained staff members, a teacher and an assistant. Their task is to model courteous and supportive behaviour while making the children feel accepted and valued. There is a great emphasis on communication and the group eat breakfast together. For more details, see www.nurturegroups.org.