Some of the most difficult young primary children can be successfully returned to mainstream classes after two terms of intensive support, a Stirling nurture group pilot has confirmed.
Early results support evidence from across Britain that early identification of social, emotional and behavioural problems can be tackled by small group work over the first terms in primary. Short and longer-term benefits accrue but it is an expensive exercise, a seminar heard.
Cathy Mills and Patricia Atkinson of the council's primary pupil support service, who are both headteachers, report improved behaviour, self-esteem and self-worth among pupils who would struggle to cope in normal classes.
Stirling's small-scale project - part of a national evaluation - involves groups of no more than 12 P1-P3 children for a limit of four terms, supported by a teacher and assistant.
Mrs Mills said: "The children are demonised but they are not demons. You have got to learn to look behind their behaviour. We are re-creating missed opportunities in the early years and if there are missed experiences the child is not going to learn effectively."
Parents - "whose self-esteem was in their boots" - were closely involved.
"Every parent loves their child and wants the best for them," Mrs Mills said.
Mrs Atkinson said all but one of the parents in an initial group had found full-time work after coming in to see how their children were doing, and then bonding and spinning off into other activities, such as a course on computers. "It's all because a nurture group started in the school," she said.
She believes children should spend a number of hours in nurture groups each day and that staff have to be specially trained. Much of the activity centred on the kitchen and play, although curriculum work is not overlooked in the "emotional nurturing".
Mrs Mills believes that multi-agency aspects are vital, as is staff development. Some still thought "naughty" children were benefiting unfairly from small classes.