Northern Ireland Assembly Gives Full Backing to Findings of Recent CESI Report on Nurture Groups



During an extensive debate on Tuesday 15 November, the Northern Ireland Assembly welcomed and gave its full support to the Centre’s recent report on Nurture Group provision in primary schools.

The report, that involved a robust evaluation of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of nurture groups in Northern Ireland, was launched in September at Queen’s and welcomed by the Minister of Education. Nurture groups seek to provide support to those children in the first years of primary school who have behavioural needs and are already facing difficulties with adjusting to the demands of the school day.

The report, produced by a team of researchers from the CESI Health and Wellbeing in Schools Research Programme found clear evidence 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. The research also found that nurture groups are cost effective with the potential to deliver significant savings to the education system.

During the Assembly debate, the findings of the report were debated extensively and received wide-spread support from across political parties. Lord Morrow, who proposed a motion on the report, said: “I commend the staff of Queen's University for producing such an excellent report on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of nurture group provision in Northern Ireland. It would be difficult not to recommend funding for the implementation of nurture groups when one reads the report in detail and takes account of the views of those involved in the study.”

The motion that was agreed by the Assembly stated:

“That this Assembly welcomes the report by the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast, entitled 'The Impact and Cost Effectiveness of Nurture Groups in Primary Schools in Northern Ireland'; welcomes the commitment of the Minister of Education to continuing to fund the 32 nurture units across Northern Ireland; and, as recommended in the report by Queen’s University, calls on the Minister of Education to ensure that a sustainable funding model is put in place for the longer-term viability of nurture group provision, to plan the further expansion of nurture provision in each primary school sector targeted in the areas of greatest need, to develop appropriate training for staff and to conduct research into models for the delivery of nurture provision.”

Speaking of the motion, Dr Sarah Miller, Lead for the Health and Wellbeing in Schools Research Programme within the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation said: “We are delighted to see that our research is having such a direct impact on political debate and government policy. The Centre is committed to promoting the best use of evidence in decision making and it is very encouraging to see from the debate in the Assembly, the commitment of MLAs to robust evidence.”

“This report is just one of a number of robust trials that our Centre has produced in relation to health and wellbeing in schools. We very much look forward to continuing this important programme of work and ensuring that we continue to provide strong evidence on the effectiveness of programmes on outcomes for children and families to inform government thinking.”

The text of the full debate is available on Hansard (pp. 17-27 & 55-61) at:

For further information on the report, please contact Dr Seaneen Sloan, Principal Investigator at CESI for this study.


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