Northern Ireland

Self-funded nurture room improving emotional wellbeing of pupils

Sacred Heart PS in north Belfast serves one of the most deprived areas
Sacred Heart PS in north Belfast serves one of the most deprived areas

A PRIMARY school is funding its own nurture room to tackle issues including poverty, social exclusion and mental health.

Sacred Heart PS in north Belfast serves one of the most deprived areas - ranking second out of the top 100 on multiple deprivation measures.

This includes difficulties such as addiction, suicide, violence and anti-social behaviour, which impact on children and can lead to a social, emotional and behavioural problems.

Three quarters of pupils at Sacred Heart are entitled to free school meals and 40 per cent have special educational needs.

Academic research has found that nurture groups in primary schools are successful in achieving improvements in the social, emotional and behavioural skills of children, from deprived areas.

Sacred Heart is now providing a nurturing approach, with the added value of sensory experiences, to help address barriers in an inclusive and supportive manner.

Its Rainbow Room will be for short term early intervention with P2 and P3 children. It is a carefully planned, focused approach in a safe environment to build an attachment relationship with a consistent and reliable adult.

The children will receive highly structured and supported learning experiences, but will re-join their mainstream class for registration, assembly, break, lunch and home time, as well PE and school trips. After the completion of three of four terms, the ultimate aim is that they can reintegrate into their mainstream class on a full-time basis.

Principal Joanne Smyth said fundraising helped meet the cost of furnishing the room.

"The remaining cost to operate the Rainbow Room has been taken from our very small school budget providing a teacher and a classroom assistant to deliver the approach," she said.

"We believe that this investment will have a huge impact on our children, which is why we made the conscious effort this year to address the need within our school.

"Currently 31 schools receive funds from the Department of Education to provide a nurture room, we unfortunately are not one. We would like to urge the representatives from DENI and EA to strongly consider the children of Sacred Heart in having the opportunity in becoming a funded nurture school in the future."

Children attending the Rainbow Room, Ms Smyth said, were already showing clear improvements in punctuality, attendance, confidence and some reductions in social and emotional and behavioural difficulties.

"We are hoping that they continue to feel more confident, calmer and less anxious as the months continue," she added.

"We are hoping that this positive engagement will have a longer term impact with improvements in academic attainment, as the barriers to learning are removed through nurture provision, and facilitating pupil engagement within the classroom.

"But this is only sustainable in the very short term due to our existing budgets constraints."