Nurture should never be overlooked

5th October 2012 at 01:00

The words of Blake, one of the S34 boys who attend Broxburn Academy's Nurture Base, are telling: "In the big classrooms I used to carry on a lot, hiding that I couldn't do the work. But with the teachers coming in here to teach and us being a wee group, you feel you can ask for help." This week's feature (pages 18-21) shows that focused intervention in the lives of some youngsters really works. The nurture group approach relies on building positive relationships, often filling the yawning gaps in some children's home lives. It is a theme echoed strongly in the Scottish government's Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2012 report (page 5) which tracks and analyses school staff views of pupil discipline.

Over six years, the researchers have seen a move away from sanctions and punishments towards more positive approaches that promote good behaviour and take a holistic, whole-child approach. It shows schools are embracing restorative approaches and that on the whole, staff trust each other. Training in behaviour management has been sustained despite budget cutbacks, although a growing tendency to deliver it in "twilight" sessions after school risks excluding classroom assistants and learning support assistants.

Indeed, there is a theme running through the behaviour survey report of support assistants being more critical of pupil behaviour than teachers or heads - the latter appear to have the rosiest view of school discipline. Yet, as the example of Cheryl Stirling at Broxburn Academy demonstrates, the role of a pupil support worker can be crucial. As Blake points out, "Cheryl's like a second mum to me. She's always here for us."

Let us hope people like Cheryl continue to be there for the pupils who need them. The report includes an analysis of the current financial climate, suggesting that core education services have been largely protected to date. But there is an "expectation" that future budget cuts will make inroads into additional support for learning services and the number of support assistants.

The fear must be that any provision that is non-statutory will be vulnerable in future. By giving community, learning and development a more explicit role in its post-16 agenda, the government seems to be trying to protect it (News Focus, pages 12-15). For too long CLD has existed in the shadows, providing the community support lacking from too many lives. But the figures around CLD demonstrate just how fragmented the sector is. With more than 90,000 youth work opportunities alone receiving support from local authorities, the scope for picking them off - a few here, a few there - will be considerable. As Professor Lyn Tett of the University of Edinburgh reminds us, although the funding going into CLD is minute compared to other areas of education, it "does have a big impact".

Elizabeth Buie Deputy editor

Gillian Macdonald is away.

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