Learning to thrive

12th January 2007 at 00:00
New research shows children in nurture groups overtaking others with similar backgrounds

CHILDREN WITH emotional, behavioural and social problems have shown big improvements in attainment and behaviour after taking part in Glasgow's ground-breaking nurture groups, and some have even overtaken children from similar backgrounds.

These findings - as well as a number of other encouraging results - have emerged from one of the largest and most robust studies of nurture groups.

The researchers behind the study now intend to monitor the progress of 179 children across nurture and control groups until the end of secondary school, by keeping track, for example, of expulsions and exam results.

Glasgow City Council has 58 nurture groups, run by a teacher and a classroom assistant, which typically comprise six to eight P1 and P2 pupils whose difficulties stop them learning properly. Children can be placed in these groups for several terms before returning to mainstream classes.

Researchers assessed 179 children from 32 schools. Roughly half of them were attending nurture groups in school, while the others came from schools where nurture groups were not being run. Both sets of children came from similar backgrounds. The findings were revealed in Glasgow last week at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society's education and child psychology division.

Children in the nurture groups made significant improvements in every category - some of which were described as very substantial. Notably, the children in the nurture groups overtook the children in the control groups on measures of basic educational attainment, despite starting off with lower scores.

The researchers also issued parental questionnaires and they describe some of the feedback as "very touching". Among the comments were: "I've got my child back."

Sue Reynolds, area principal psychologist in Glasgow, said: "There was not one negative finding for those attending the nurture groups. The children became appropriately socially involved with their peers, were able to take adult direction without responding negatively, showed increased self-esteem (both at home and at school) and displayed those signs of readiness for learning such as interest and motivation to learn."

The children in the nurture groups can be vulnerable for a number of reasons and they often come from areas of high deprivation. They are not considered ready for the classroom environment - usually because they lack social and emotional skills rather than ability.

Ms Reynolds said nurture groups were about helping children thrive, but not focusing purely on attainment. The initial signs are also that the children in nurture groups settle in well when they move into main-stream classes.

The plan to track the children throughout their schooling will result in some of the most detailed data available on the long-term impact of nurture groups.

Ms Reynolds said the size and robustness of the work done to date meant the Glasgow study could already be seen as "ground-breaking".

Meanwhile, Glasgow City Council intends to bring in more nurture groups through pilot schemes in nursery and secondary schools. Springburn Academy and Drumchapel High have already started their own nurture groups independently.

Evaluation

Pupils were matched on an audit of need:

Care basis

Parental support

Additional support needs

Poor self-concept

Pre-school experience

Earlydeferred entry to school

Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties

Statistics for longitudinal evaluation will include:

Attendance

Exclusions

Attainment and achievements

EBD placements

SEN placements other than EBD

Other inputs such as speech and language and social work

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