Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Children at risk of exclusion helped by nurture groups

Nurture groups can make a considerable difference to the behaviour and social skills of children who might otherwise be at risk of exclusion according to a new report from Ofsted. However, schools should ensure that pupils in these groups are making academic as well as social and emotional progress.


‘Supporting children with challenging behaviour through a nurture group approach’ found that many pupils attending such groups were making substantial progress with their behavioural, social and emotional skills. The most successful groups also placed a strong focus on developing literacy and numeracy skills and viewed success in basic skills as a key factor in raising self-esteem. Pupils in these groups made good academic progress too.


Nurture groups are small, structured teaching groups for pupils showing signs of behavioural, social or emotional difficulties. This could include aggression, an inability to work independently, or very withdrawn behaviour.


Through these groups pupils can learn to manage their own behaviour, build positive relationships with adults and with other pupils, and develop strategies to help them cope with their emotions. However, nurture groups can not be the complete solution to the support that vulnerable children need. The school itself needs to be a nurturing environment and families need to be supported.


Across the 29 schools visited for the 2011 survey, 379 pupils between the age of four and 11 were attending a nurture group at the time of the survey. Pupils who were selected for the groups that inspectors visited had sometimes been previously excluded from school on a fixed-term basis, were in danger of permanent exclusion, or were being considered for a move to a special school.


Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Miriam Rosen said:


“Nurture groups help support some of the country’s most vulnerable children. Well-planned, rigorous intervention that focuses on academic as well as social, emotional and behavioural progress can make a huge difference to the lives of children who might otherwise be left behind.”


“Through these groups pupils are given the skills they need to remain in mainstream education. This report provides practical advice to those who support children with challenging behaviour, so that those children are given the opportunity to thrive.”


In one example, a pupil who attended a nurture group for four afternoons a week during Year 1 would not initially speak in class and her reluctance to participate led to her falling behind in lessons. After a few weeks attending the group, she started to whisper a few words to her teacher. Over time, she became more adventurous and was more willing to try new things and her progress in reading, writing and maths accelerated. On leaving the nurture group, she continued to show improvements. The following year she would volunteer information and put up her hand to answer questions.


All of the schools visited judged the success of the group partly in terms of the pupils’ successful reintegration to their main class. In one example, the process of reintegration started from the moment the pupil entered the nurture group. There was a close match between the curriculum being taught in mainstream classes and in the nurture group and pupils remained part of their mainstream class.


Of the 95 parents and carers interviewed, the vast majority expressed their appreciation of how the nurture group intervention had helped their children. They spoke of their children being calmer, happier and more confident, both at school and at home, and of their own greater confidence in managing their children’s behaviour.


One parent said: ‘Without the group our children would be expelled or lost.’ Another described the difference that attending the nurture group made to her child: ‘He is much calmer now and there are no problems getting him to school. He is keen to come now.’


One school was especially good at communicating with parents about their child’s progress. Parents were invited to ‘drop in’ and meet with nurture group staff to talk about their child, including asking for support with managing their behaviour or supporting their learning.


In 2009, Ofsted published a survey ‘The exclusion from school of children aged four to seven’. Data collected by the Department for Education (DfE) show that it is rare for schools to exclude children under seven. Nevertheless, some children of this age were, and still are, receiving fixed-period exclusions, occasionally leading to permanent exclusion. Ofsted’s 2009 survey found that using nurture groups well was one of the ways in which some schools managed to avoid using exclusion.


Notes to Editors:


1.       The report, ‘Supporting children with challenging behaviour through a nurture group approach’ can be found on the Ofsted website at


2.       The report ‘The exclusion from school of children aged four to seven’ can also be found on the Ofsted website.


3.       For more information on nurture groups, visit the nurture group network website at


4.       The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.


5.       Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6899 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359

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