INTENSIVE work with immature and difficult pupils in the early years of primary is to be expanded to all 29 school clusters in Glasgow after a two-year nurture class pilot revealed extraordinary changes in anti-social behaviour.
Of 108 children tested in 13 of the 17 schools initially involved, only eight did not significantly improve their behaviour. Teachers and parents notice the differences and headteachers are said to be "universally supportive".
A question mark over the continuation of the pilot was raised in May when the first phase was drawing to a close but this week councillors backed an initiative that is increasingly regarded as a powerful means to prepare pupils for the formal curriculum and ease classroom anxieties among pupils and teachers.
The city supports the view first expressed by the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Executive that there is scope for more play and socialisation in the early years.
Staff cited pupils who were initially unable to handle any teaching but were eventually rein-tegrated into the top group of their class. One nurture group pupil had a higher reading age than his peers after he was returned to class.
Nurture groups work with small groups of children for most of the week and aim to reintroduce pupils to their normal class once they have settled down. Using a diagnostic assessment called the Boxhall Profile, 108 pupils in 13 schools were tested and 12 primaries "made a statistically significant change in the behaviour of the children".
Two primaries not involved in the pilot were used as control schools and 11 children with similar behaviour problems were given Boxhall Profiles. "In neither control school, after a six-month period, had any significant change taken place in the behaviour of the children as measured by the Boxhall Profile," officials state.
A second assessment using a Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) tested 133 children in 15 schools before and after intervention. Eleven schools produced statistically significant scores, affecting 110 children.
But children in the two control primaries made no significant change in their behaviour.
A third tool, the Children's Analogical Thinking Modifiability test, indicated that 80 per cent of nurture class pupils improved significantly over six months compared with 30 per cent of children in the control group.
Teachers in nurture classes report better pupil attendance and less latecoming and improvements to attainment and behaviour.
The Glasgow findings are said to mirror studies south of the border. In the London borough of Enfield in 1997, of 308 children placed in six nurture classes since the late 1980s, 87 per cent were able to return to mainstream schools within a year of placement and 83 per cent needed no additional support.
A comparator group of 20 without nurture support showed more persistent difficulties with 35 per cent placed in special schools and 45 per cent needing extra support.
* Before: "We can't take him to the shops. He makes such a scene if he can't get what he wants. It's embarrassing as he shouts and screams, kicks and punches and people stare, so I don't take him any more."
* After: "At the weekend we went to buy a new car. We took a risk and took him with us. He was so good. Even the guy at the car place said what a well-behaved boy he was. I thought to myself if only you knew what it used to be like."