Northern Ireland Department of Education hailed nurture groups as “highly successful”

Nurture groups’ have been hailed as “highly successful” in improving outcomes for children in a new report launched by the Department of Education Northern Ireland. 

An independent evaluation by Queen’s University Belfast into the Nurture Signature Project in which nurture groups were set up in twenty primary schools and a further ten existing nurture groups were supported, has found that the nurture group provision is “highly successful in its primary aim of achieving improvements in the social, emotional and behavioural skills of children from deprived areas exhibiting significant difficulties”.

The project was funded jointly by the Department of Education and Department of Social Development as part of the Delivering Social Change Framework to tackle multi-generational poverty and improve children’s health, wellbeing, educational and life opportunities, announced by the Northern Irish Government in 2012. 

The independent evaluation, welcomed by Peter Weir, Minister for Education, found that “nurture groups are cost effective and have the potential to result in a significant saving to the education system and an even greater return to society” and recommends strongly “that the Department of Education continue to support nurture group provision in Northern Ireland”.

The level of improvements of nurture groups were found to occur regardless of gender, age, or whether there had been social services involvement, furthermore, such improvements were not evident among children in similar circumstances attending a school without a nurture group.  For example, whilst 77.7% of children who entered nurture groups as part of the trial were exhibiting difficult behaviour this reduced to just 20.6% at post-test. However, for those children in the control schools, 62.8% of children exhibited difficult behaviour at the start of the year and this remained largely unchanged at post-test (61.9%).  

The Nurture Group Network CEO Kevin Kibble said: “I was delighted when the Northern Ireland Government chose to fund this project and I am delighted that independent evaluation points to “clear and convincing evidence” of the positive outcomes nurture groups have for children and their families.  I hope that other Governments and education leaders can follow the example of Northern Ireland and commit to increasing nurture provision for all children.”

More information about the report can be found on the Northern Ireland Deparment for Education website.

Download the Queen's University Belfast report executive summary.