Queen’s researchers have launched their evaluation report examining the nurture provision in Northern Ireland, which has been welcomed by Education Minister, Peter Weir.
The Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen's University Belfast was commissioned by the Department of Education to undertake an evaluation of nurture groups and examine the impact of the 30 groups then funded by the Department.
Speaking at the launch today, the Minister said: “Many children are facing very challenging circumstances on a daily basis and yet we, as a society, expect them to come to school, to sit calmly at a desk, and start working through the curriculum.
“The reality is that some of these children need help. Thankfully with some assistance from teachers, many children have little difficulty getting through the school day however, many still do. That is why early intervention through nurture was introduced. Acting now can help prevent escalating difficulties at a later stage and at a much greater cost. Those costs are not just relating to education but to other services such as health and justice. The report produced by the Queen's University research group bears this out.”
The Nurture Signature Project officially ended in June 2015 however, the Department of Education has continued to support and fund the 30 nurture groups and has recently added two Irish Medium Nurture Groups to the mix of participating schools.
The Minister continued: “The evaluation report highlights the difference between children who receive nurture group support and those in the control group of schools where there is no nurture provision. Through this pilot programme we have been able to transform the educational prospects of some of our most vulnerable children.
“In the coming months I will be looking at ways to mainstream nurture provision in the future and will consider carefully how to best ensure that resources are targeted to those schools with children in greatest need. I will also explore how best my Department can work collectively with other Executive departments that have a vested interest in children’s social and emotional development, mental health and future life chances.”
The Minister concluded by thanking the Queen's research team and the Education and Training Inspectorate. He said: “The valuable research and evaluations that have been undertaken provide sound evidence on which we can base future decisions in relation to nurture. I also commend the Principals, teachers and classroom assistants of all nurture schools. Without your dedication and commitment, nurture provision would not have such a positive impact on the lives of these children.”
Professor Paul Connolly, Director of the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation, and member of the research team said: “Our research provides clear evidence of the benefits of nurture groups for children who face 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. 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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