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Nurture groups improve social, emotional and behavioural outcomes for children

Cover of the report by the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen's

School `nurture groups' are improving social, emotional and behavioural outcomes among children from some of the most deprived areas, a report has found.

The Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen's University Belfast yesterday published its report into the impact of the units in primary schools.

The concept of nurture groups has been widely developed across the UK to address behavioural needs within schools, offering a safe and welcoming environment to promote learning and positive behaviours.

They are recognised as playing a key role in tackling under-achievement early in a child's life by providing targeted support.

Hundreds of children - from P1 to P3 - benefit from extra help in special facilities that are typically equipped with kitchens, sofas, and quiet rooms.

At the time of the study, 30 schools in the north operated Department of Education-funded groups.

The evaluation found clear evidence that nurture group provision was "highly successful in its primary aim of achieving improvements in the social, emotional and behavioural skills of children from deprived areas exhibiting significant difficulties".

Analysis of data gathered on 529 children showed that, on average, they made consistently large improvements in social, emotional and behavioural development.

These levels of improvement were found to occur for all groups, regardless of gender, age or whether there had been social services involvement.

While progress was found among children from all groups, there was some evidence that greater progress was being made by those attending on a full-time basis, looked after children and by those not eligible for free school meals.

Professor Paul Connolly from Queen's, and member of the research team, said there was clear evidence of the benefits of nurture groups for children who faced challenges in their early years in education.

"We found that nurture groups led to significant improvements in social, emotional and behavioral outcomes among children who previously had difficulty learning within a mainstream class," Prof Connolly said.

"The same effects were not evident among children in similar circumstances attending a school without a nurture group. We also found that nurture groups are cost effective with the potential to deliver significant savings to the education system.

"This provides robust evidence to inform decisions on the future of nurture education and opportunities to improve prospects and outcomes for children across Northern Ireland."

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