Nurture Groups



Nurture groups are small classes for children with emotional and/or behavioural difficulties. The staff model positive behaviour and social skills in a safe, predictable, nurturing environment.




Nurture groups provide a small group environment incorporating therapeutic provision for young children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. They have been in existence since the 1970's (initiated by Majorie Boxall, an educational psychologist in the Inner London Education Authority) to cater for children who have difficulty in accessing the curriculum. Nurture groups are informed by models of child development with a significant emphasis on the relationship between the child and the adult based on Bowlby's attachment theory (1969).

Children register with their class every morning and then join the Nurture Group for all or part of the day. They return to integrate with their peers for activities such as PE and class trips. They remain in the Nurture Group, which generally consists of 10-12 pupils, for 6-18 months. Evidence is growing that such groups are an effective early intervention for social, emotional and behavioural special needs

Nurture Groups exist as a valued and integral part of the whole school. The classical Boxall Nurture Group model runs as follows: children register with their normal class and are collected by their group teacher or assistant and then spend most of the day in a group room, returning to their class usually for the last session of the day. The room has the ambience of a nurturing home, soft furnishings and cooking area where food is prepared and shared. There is story time, play and focused adult attention. There are explicit regular work routines to ensure children follow the National Curriculum. There are also clear expectations about taking turns, waiting, choosing, finishing a task, putting things away etc. The group teacher and assistant work closely together modelling adult co-operation, sharing, discussing and being consistent. Staff respond to each child at their respective emotional stage and offer developmentally appropriate experiences to meet the child's needs.

Current secondary models operate for a minimum of 2 morning or equivalent sessions often with an extended nurture programme which is offered to other groups of young people in school who may have low self-esteem or difficulties in managing emotions. Nurture Group work works well alongside SEAL and the ELSA project.

The group offers a predictable structure and routine and therefore the children develop greater trust and self esteem. They begin to feel safe and learn to ask questions, make sense of their experiences and articulate their thoughts. This leads to greater independence and the capacity to learn. The children also begin to learn to use effective social skills and adopt alternative strategies to use in difficult situations. Within two to five terms the majority of children are reintegrated into their mainstream classrooms.

Iszatt and Wasilewska (1997) researched the effectiveness of the Nurture Groups in Enfield. They demonstrated that a matched control group of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties who had not received the support of a Nurture Group were three times more likely to require formal assessment than those placed in groups. They were seven times more likely to require special school provision.

The success of Nurture Groups has been recognised by the DfE who in Excellence for all Children: Meeting Special Education Needs (DfES October 1997; p 70) cite Nurture Groups as a successful example of early identification and intervention for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. The DfE also suggest the use of Nurture Groups in their LSU paper issued in the summer of 2000. The Steer Report (2005) also mentions Nurture Groups as an important preventative resource.


Relevance for teachers


Marjorie Boxall wrote that "Satisfactory emotional, social and cognitive development in the earliest years is the product of adequate and attentive early nurturing care...the learning process centres on attachment and trust and has its foundations in the close identification of parents and child, and the ...participation in shared experiences that stem from this".

Children who have not experienced such early nurturing enter school without the social skills, the feelings of self worth, the ability to listen, to attend or to share that life at school requires. It is important for them to build trusting relationships with reliable and consistent adults, and with their peers, so that they can gain self-confidence and the ability to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

Characteristics of nurture groups

Nurture groups have a number of characteristics that should be evident in practice. A nurture group should:

  • Be located clearly within the policies and structures of a local authorityor school continuum of special educational needs provision, either as an integral part of an individual school or as a resource for a cluster of schools.
  • Ensure that children attending the nurture group remain members of a mainstream class where they register daily and attend selected activities.
  • Have a pattern of attendance whereby children spend part of each day in the nurture group or attend for regular sessions during the week.
  • Be staffed by two adults working togethermodelling good adult relationships in a structured and predictable environment, which encourages children tobegin to trust adults and to learn.
  • Offer support for children's positive emotional and social growth and cognitive development at whatever level of need the children show by responding to them in a developmentally appropriate way.
  • Supply a setting and relationships for children in which missing or insufficiently internalised essential early learning experiences are provided.
  • Ensure that relevant national curriculum guidelines are followed for all children
  • Be taken full account of in school policies, participate fully, and be fully considered in the development and review of policies.
  • Offer short or medium term placements, usually for between two and four terms, depending on the child's specific needs.
  • Ensure placement in the group is determined on the basis of systematic assessment in which appropriate diagnostic and evaluative instruments have been used, with the aim always being to return the child to full-time mainstream provision.
  • Place an emphasis on communication and language development through intensive interaction with an adult and with other children.
  • Povide opportunities for social learning through co-operation and play with others in a group with an appropriate mix of children.
  • Monitor and evaluate their effectiveness in promoting the positive social, emotional and educational development of each child.
  • Recognise the importance of quality play experiences in the development of children's learning.


Indicative Reading


Boxall M. and Lucas S. (2001) Nurture Groups in Schools, Principles and Practice Sage


Nurture Groups,

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