Review - Nurture is all very well, but what's its nature?

14th January 2011 at 00:00

The Nurture Room will be shown on More4 at 10pm on 18 January.

"Fuck off!" the girl with the blonde ponytail yells. "Just fuckin' ... ". Her words fade into an incoherent mumble. Then she spits on the playground tarmac.

Jordyn is nine years old. Intractable and often violent, she struggles to cope with mainstream schooling. "She's a big girl," her teacher says. "And she's strong and (hollow laugh) quite forceful."

Jordyn is one of three Glasgow primary pupils profiled in The Nurture Room, a one-off documentary to be screened on More4 on 18 January. As with eight-year-old Jason and six-year-old Jamie, she has been taken out of class and is being taught in her school's "nurture room".

The aim of the nurture room is to teach pupils how to respond to everyday life in a proportionate, socially acceptable manner. Points are given for walking upstairs slowly, for helping others, for good table manners. "We need a sign saying, 'Don't put cheese on your face'," Jason complains when he fails to win any points over lunch.

The room is a place of adult consistency and firm boundaries; a safe space in which to act out behaviour that might elsewhere lead to exclusion. So a teacher quietly explains that it is quite alright for her pre-pubescent charges to be putting dolls in the toy oven or burying plastic bodies in the sandpit.

The problem with the one-and-a-half-hour documentary, however, is a lack of intellectual rigour. The philosophy of the nurture room is never actively explained: it is left to the viewer to piece it together from snatched vignettes and talking-head interviews with children.

"I used to have to take my tablets before school all the time," a mop-haired boy says. "But I don't need to take them any more."

A small girl looks directly at the camera: "God made the nurture room."

It is not entirely clear how, several months later, we reach the point when Jordyn and Jason are ready to begin reintegration into their mainstream classrooms. Jordyn struggles initially. "The girls were quite intimidated by her," the teacher says. Pause. "So were the boys."

To demonstrate Jordyn's more sympathetic side, the teacher invites a selection of her classmates into the nurture room, where her good behaviour is rewarded. She hides in embarrassment. "Jordyn's just the same as the rest of you - she gets embarrassed by the same things," her teacher explains.

By the end of the documentary, Jordyn is seen trying out for a football team, while previously taciturn Jason now gushes volubly to camera.

The lack of concrete philosophy, however, undermines the sense of achievement. There is no triumph over adversity, because adversity seems simply to have healed itself.

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