Nurturing out behavioural problems in school

A north London scheme is using a nurturing approach to integrate children who have behavioural issues into school. Anabel Unity Sale reports 

Disruptive behaviour in the classroom is often in the spotlight. Some say tougher discipline is the answer, others believe it would make some children withdraw socially or become aggressive because they are intimidated by school. To tackle the problems, schools in Enfield, north London, have introduced the “nurture group” approach.

This was created in 1969 by educational psychologist Marjorie Boxall. Her work in Hackney, east London revealed that, soon after starting, many children in primary schools were excluded or referred for special school placement because they were unmanageable. From her own clinical practice, Boxall knew that children who viewed the world as a hostile and unsafe place would find school bewildering, and behave accordingly. She later established small nurture groups in schools to give some children the positive experiences necessary to improve their development, learning and self-esteem.


There are now more than 1,000 nurture groups in the UK, Canada and New Zealand. The approach emphasises the importance of nurture for developing a child’s self-esteem and views all children’s behaviour as communication. Groups incorporate this understanding in the curriculum, assessments, data recording and planning of the classes.

The Prince of Wales primary school in Enfield has one of these nurture groups. Head teacher Carmel Moore wanted to introduce the approach to the school she has run for 21 years because of the success six other local schools have achieved using the method.

“I liked how nurture groups operate because children are not separated off from their peers,” she says. “They just attend the group a few hours a day from their regular classes. The expectation is that these children are bright, have every reason to succeed in their lives but for whatever reason have had some sort of social setback.”

Return to mainstream

By following this approach children can progress and prepare for learning. “Unless children are emotionally settled they cannot learn,” Moore says.

Children can attend the nurture group for up to one academic year. They can return full-time to their mainstream class once children, parents and teachers agree.

A £50,000 grant from the Nurture Group Network helped the Prince of Wales primary school build a dedicated “rainbow” classroom with an attached kitchen. As its name suggests, the rainbow classroom is bright and welcoming. When I visit, nurture group teacher Lindsay Kelly is with eight pupils, aged five to seven, eating breakfast at the dining table. “I want to help children take an active part in school and get to the bottom of why some of them are failing,” Kelly says.

Learning to express themselves

She worked as a mainstream teacher for several years before welcoming the chance to work more closely with children – and their parents and carers – who were having difficulty integrating into school.

Using the nurture group approach, children attend the class after morning registration with their mainstream classmates. Sessions in the rainbow classroom begin with a discussion about how everyone, including Kelly, is feeling and why. This allows children who are not used to expressing themselves and their feelings learn how to do so. After breakfast the children follow the ordinary keystage one curriculum – while I am there they play with Play-Doh which helps to improve their motor and communication skills.

Positive reaction

The reaction of parents and carers whose children attend the rainbow class has been positive. Moore and Kelly believe this is because great effort is made to avoid stigmatising children who attend the class and to communicate openly with parents and carers about the support they can also offer them. Parents and carers attend an open day before their child starts the nurture group and regular coffee mornings are held where they can meet other parents and share issues.

Children in the rainbow class are not involved with statutory services which, Kelly says, can make it easier for parents to shed any stigma they may have about attending the nurture group.

“The approach works because it is a good way of finding out what parents think, they can talk to each other and obtain support and we can refer them on to other agencies if they need further advice,” she adds.

What works

● Do not label a child’s behaviour as negative:view it as a means of communication and find out what is influencing their behaviour.

● Stability is important for children so try to have the same staff working with them.

● Prepare children for any changes and answer their questions when they happen.

● Operate an open-door policy for parents to give feedback about how you are working with their children and what support is available to them.

This article is published in the 15 January edition of Community Care under the headline “On the nurture trail”

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