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Thank goodness for nurture groups

Glasgow's implementation of nurture groups for vulnerable youngsters in its primary schools has been commended by Marion Bennathan, chair of the Nurture Group Network and one of the founders of nurture group movement.

Ms Bennathan told delegates from across Scotland that, because the groups in the city had been carefully set up and evaluated, the education committee had picked up the baton and run with it successfully.

Things looked very different earlier in the year when reports emerged that the city was considering closing its 12 groups. But the reaction that followed, along with an extremely positive evaluation by the authority, led to the decision to retain them and extend the initiative to 27 groups, which were set up on a permanent basis from August.

Ms Bennathan commented: "Thank goodness the education committee authorised continuing funding so that the groups are now a permanent feature of Glasgow educational life. The firm expectation is that this will spread throughout the city and make a significant difference to social inclusion."

Started four years ago as a pilot, the nurture groups consist of small classes of eight to nine pupils in a mainstream school who are regarded on entry as likely to have problems coping with the curriculum.

The evaluation showed that they improve attendance and attainment, build up confidence and self-esteem and encourage parents to become partners in education.

Mary McKerrell, headteacher of Anderston primary in Glasgow, one of the pilot schools, told the conference that in spite of early concerns staff reported less disruption, less stress and more effective teaching.

Irene Grant, principal officer for special educational needs in Glasgow, warned that it is not enough just to set up a nurture group. "One of the prerequisites is that you have to have official formal training.

In addition to the training available at Cambridge University and other centres, Glasgow has hosted and funded a four-day training course leading to a certificate, taken by the Nurture Group Network and linked to the university providers."

More than 1,600 staff have attended the courses.

Nurture group principles have also been adopted at Gordon primary in Aberdeenshire, where they have received unanimous support and enthusiasm.

But the needs of children in the learning support areas can be quite distinct, Kate Markland, a learning support teacher, said.

"We need to address their difficulties in a way that empowers the child and allows him to re-engage with the learning process. Nurture groups provide such support for children."

Paul Cooper, professor of education at Leicester University, and director of the Nurture Group Research Project, told the conference that case studies had shown that the few parents who initially fear a stigma if their children are in nurture groups have "a complete turnaround of attitude".

Professor Cooper said: "One of the things that is pretty graphic in our research is the sense of despair and hopelessness that parents of very young children feel when it is brought to their attention, in no uncertain terms, that their child is failing.

He added: "What comes out from parent interviews often is the huge sense of relief - just like a huge burden is lifted off them when the child attends a nurture group. They see their children doing so much better and their attitude towards their children changes and they become more positive."

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