Q I run a nurture unit in a secondary school, but am worried that some of the pupils with attention difficulties and behavioural problems are getting too comfortable and don't want to return to mainstream. How can I help them return to class?
A Re-entry is always an issue when pupils are taken out of ordinary classroom contexts for additional or specialised help. Pupils referred to a nurture unit, by definition, have difficulties in social interaction with other pupils and adults, may have problems settling to tasks and sustaining attention, and may be easily distracted and challenging to manage in large groups, especially for inexperienced staff.
The key here is to examine what it is about the unit that works so well and how this practice can be shared with colleagues. Identify precisely the factors that create comfortable teaching and learning conditions for these pupils. It is likely that, in a small nurture group, teachers are able to set manageable and relevant activities, to minimise distractions, to build learning by frequent monitoring, encouragement and individual negotiation, and to limit troublesome behaviour by stepping in early to defuse situations.
The next step is to look at the classrooms in which pupils are included, and to extend the unit's way of doing things into mainstream. Some small changes to mainstream learning environments should be possible, such as groupings, how topics are introduced, time spent listening, and varied ways of supporting lesson content through different media. Unit staff might prepare pupils for certain lessons by going over key vocabulary and concepts beforehand, drawing up a lesson plan or script to rehearse the kind of learning demands that will be made. Some pupils in the early stages of re-entry may benefit from in-class support and the opportunity to go over their work with a unit teacher later.
Planned re-integration should be the aim from the start of any placement in the unit. You may need to revisit its purpose with senior management, and obtain support for necessary work with other members of staff, helping them to accept staged returns and building up their skills.
Pupils and staff should always expect returns to mainstream groups and should be helped to plan for this. An open-ended arrangement with no clear expectations or time constraints on pupils' attendance will turn any unit into a safe haven from which there is no return.