Developing Nurturing Practices in Schools

Developing Nurturing Practices

We believe that one of the most effective ways schools can support children with social, emotional and mental health needs is through developing nurturing practices in schools. Children showing signs of emotional distress have often, for a variety of reasons, missed out on essential early learning experiences that promote social development and readiness to learn. Applying the Six Principles of Nurture can enable schools to address these unmet needs and allow children to thrive socially and academically.

Read more about The Six Principles of Nurture

The Six Principles of Nurture

  • Children’s learning is understood developmentally
  • The classroom offers a safe base
  • The importance of nurture for the development of well being
  • Language is a vital means of communication
  • All behaviour is communication
  • The importance of transition in children’s lives

These principles can be applied across an organisational level to support the whole school community as well as through a targeted intervention called a Nurture Group to support those with the most significant need.

Nurture Groups are a theoretically grounded, evidence-based approach. Run well they can:

  • Support children’s social, emotional and academic progress
  • Provide inclusive practice and reduce exclusion
  • Support positive relationships with families and communities


Theory Informing Nurture Groups

Read more about the Theory Informing Nurture Groups

The ‘classic’ Boxall Nurture Group is based on the work of Marjorie Boxall and draws heavily on attachment theory but also can be seen to draw on humanistic and social learning theories of child development. In order to provide a consistent approach Nurture Groups centre their work around the Six Principles of Nurture.

Attachment theory claims that positive attachment experiences allow children to develop age-appropriate behaviour and social skills, trust in adults, a readiness to learn and a positive sense of self. Negative attachment experiences may mean children hold a negative view of themselves and others and lack the essential prerequisite skills for learning in a classroom.

Nurture Groups aim to address these unmet early learning needs through enabling children to re-experience early nurturing in a safe, predictable environment by providing opportunities to develop positive relationships, a more positive sense of self and better developed communication and learning skills.


Nurture Groups in Schools

Read more about Nurture Groups in Schools

Nurture Groups are for children showing signs of behavioural, social or emotional needs. Such children have often, for a variety of reasons, missed out on the early learning experiences that promote social development and readiness to learn. The aim of the Nurture Group is to provide children with the essential early learning experiences they have missed out to enable them to succeed in their mainstream class.

A typical Nurture Group is a small, structured teaching group for 8-12 children staffed by a specially trained Class Teacher and Teaching Assistant. Children remain part of their mainstream class and attend the Nurture Group for a predetermined pattern of attendance for 2-4 terms. As well as academic learning, emphasis is on building trusting relationships with adults and peers, systematic modelling of behavioural and social skills, learning through play and communication and language development. A nurturing home atmosphere is created with curricular activities interspersed with free play and sharing ‘family type’ experiences such as eating food together. Adults respond to children at their presenting social and emotional level rather than chronological age.

Nurture Groups are an inclusive provision. Entry to the Nurture Groups will always be informed by a staged referral procedure and the use of a range of assessments including the Boxall Profile carried out over time. To ensure the success of a Nurture Group research suggests that the senior leadership team need to be fully on board and have a shared vision of Nurture. Also it is vital that all school staff share an understanding of attachment theory and nurture principles. Nurture Groups can run successfully in early years, primary and secondary settings.

Find out more about training to run a Nurture Group here:


Whole School Nurture

Read more about Whole School Nurture

There is growing evidence to suggest that all children and indeed whole school communities benefit from a nurturing approach. Nurtureuk have developed The National Nurturing Schools Program to address this need. This is a two-year program undertaken by two school staff, one of which must be a senior leader, to address how the Six Principles of Nurture can be embedded across schools to benefit the key stakeholder groups of: Children, Staff, Parents and Community.

Find out more about the National Nurturing Schools Program here:


Supervision and Support

We can offer support in planning and setting up your Nurture Group as well as supervision of Nurture Group Practitioners.

Children accessing a Nurture Group typically may have experienced disruption and trauma in their early years and throughout their childhood. For this reason they can sometimes display distressing and confusing behaviour in the way that they relate to adults and peers. We believe that in order to work in the most effective way staff benefit from being enabled to reflect on what children’s behaviour might be communicating and it’s emotional impact through supervision.

If you are interested in finding out more please contact Dr Ruth Seymour on



We are currently collaborating with Oxford Brookes University, Nurtureuk and SEBDA to explore the most effective practices for Nurture Groups in Secondary Schools. Please see here for information about the Secondary Nurture Group Research Conference.


Links & Further Information

Nurture UKNurtureuk



The Mulberry Bush Learning & Research Centre
93 High Street
OX29 7RH

Tel. 01865 594700
Registered Charity 309565