Celebrating the life of Marion Bennathan

It is with great regret that we announce the death of Marion Bennathan, our Honorary Life President, who passed away peacefully on Sunday 4th February, aged 90, surrounded by her family. 

There is no doubt this is sad news, but there is much to celebrate about Marion’s long life – the many vulnerable children who succeeded at school, the teaching professionals who gained a more nurturing approach, and the nurture group movement that flourished – all thanks to her determination, passion and drive. 

Born in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1927, Marion was the fifth of sixth children born to working-class parents. On leaving school, she gained an economics degree from Birmingham University and, a few years later, went on to read psychology at London’s Birkbeck College. That was followed by training as an educational psychologist at the Child Guidance Training Centre, where she met and became friends with Marjorie Boxall.

After finishing their studies, the two stayed in touch, and Marion showed a keen interest in the nurture groups Marjorie set up in Hackney, east London. After a short spell as a teacher, Marion spent the next 12 years working as an educational psychologist, moving in 1969 to become Bristol Education Department’s Senior Educational Psychologist. During this period, Marion spoke at many conferences and served on many committees. She was never shy of promoting nurture groups to those she met, including members of the Association of Workers for Maladjusted Children (now the Social Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties Association, SEBDA) of which she was chair for many years. Marion retired from her position as the head of Avon’s Educational Psychology Service in 1987, returning to London. 

While enthusiasm for nurture groups had continued to grow, by the late 1980s they were in danger of disappearing as Marjorie retired and ILEA funding was withdrawn. Determined that nurture groups should stay on the public agenda, Marion and Marjorie co-wrote Effective Intervention in Primary Schools: Nurture Groups in 1996. 

The response to this seminal publication was extremely positive. Conferences were held around the UK, and teachers, who quickly understood the formative influence of early relationships, demanded nurture-based training. The authors were told to start training teachers and to convert the government. The first was easy; training took off immediately. The second was more difficult, with Marion, Allan Rimmer and Bob Law of SEBDA presenting to the Department of Education. In 1997, the New Labour government recommended nurture groups in several policy papers as the outstanding example of effective early intervention. 

In the same year, with Professor Fred Stone, she led the move to change the Child Guidance Trust into Young Minds and became its honorary director until 1991. Marion may have been retired but she continued to work as a consultant, writing articles and books – including the Boxall Profile in 1998 – and give talks on nurture groups in the UK and overseas. Instrumental in setting up the Nurture Group Network in 1997, she became its Honorary Director and was elected Honorary Life President in 2007. In 2011, she was awarded an OBE for services to special education and the development of the Nurture Group Network.

Marion has left a wonderful legacy. Her name, along with Marjorie’s, will always be synonymous with nurture groups. It is through her tireless work and determination that her vision of nurture groups throughout the world is becoming a reality – with over 2,000 nurture groups and 300 nurturing schools in the UK alone and more being set up every day. The staff at the Nurture Group Network, joined by the thousands of nurture practitioners around the world, thank her on behalf of the millions of vulnerable children who have been able to participate and benefit from mainstream education. For this reason, the Nurture Group Network set up The Marion Bennathan Memorial Fund to help teaching professionals access nurture-based training. 

A final fitting accolade for all Marion’s work would be if governments took on the challenge of caring for all vulnerable children and ensure that they had a nurturing environment to thrive, explore and learn in. The Nurture Group Network will continue what Marion started – to take nurture to the heart of government – and reach more children than ever before.