The first nurture group in Bedfordshire, Rainbow class, was established in 2000 for up to 10 children. It was set up in Shackleton lower school, but serves a pyramid of Bedford lower schools. The model was based on the early groups established in inner London, with a room designed to recreate a home setting, so children could share the kind of developmental experiences most of their peers would have had.
The room has five features: a comfortable sitting room area, a kitchen - with cooker - a large breakfast table, a work area and all-important mirrors. Children need to develop an image of themselves and see how their emotions affect their appearance. The mirrors give them an external vision of what they feel internally; they can see the difference between when they're happy and when they're bad-tempered.
The children come from a range of backgrounds, but all need help to adjust to being in a class and having to function with other pupils and the demands of learning. They are selected using the Boxall profile, close observations within their mainstream class and home visits. Three full days each week are spent in the nurture group, and the other two in their mainstream class. We maintain close liaison with their teachers - the children begin and end every day in their mainstream class - and national curriculum key stage 1 teaching continues where appropriate.
Children spend up to five terms in Rainbow class and we provide them with a positive and pleasurable experience of school life, through play, cooking, communal breakfast, school outings, and so on. We aim to develop their social and emotional behaviour and enable them to access - and often accelerate - their learning. Four years in, all of our children have remained in full-time school.
Financing has always been uncertain. Initially, we received funding from the Government for five terms via the Pyramid Social Inclusion Project, set up to help widen mainstream provision. Bedfordshire LEA also focused Standards Fund inclusion money on three projects in the county, one of which included the Bedford pyramid of lower schools and Rainbow class.
Money from the Children's Fund will take us up to 2006.
Initially, children are identified by class teachers as having social and emotional needs; we then observe them before a panel including representatives from the educational psychology and learning support department make a final selection. We approach at the point of selection: there has never been an adverse reaction. Parents welcome the opportunity of a place, which they see as a positive response to their child's learning difficulties.
Further, the children have not been stigmatised. Other children see Rainbow class as a positive experience; class members' friends are invited to share the settling-in process and to celebrate birthdays. We have a regular breakfast club on Fridays, where children from mainstream classes eat with Rainbow class.
Parents and pupils are involved in monitoring during the year, and in the assessment of attitudes and progress after pupils rejoin their mainstream class. The evidence is that all the pupils gain during the year, in developing aptitudes that help them succeed in school and in direct progress in their learning. We chat to parents, and they invariably tell us their children's behaviour improves at home.
With the excellent results we have shown, other schools in Bedford are now inspired to set up their own nurture group. We anticipate the third one opening later this year.
Jenny Jones is the lead teacher of Rainbow class, Lynn Gage is her assistant and Fred Birkett is assistant director of Bedford Education Action Zone