You are on page 1of 14

Hearing the unheard:

Childrens constructions of their


Nurture Group experiences
Rhian Griffiths, Rosanna Stenner & Una Hicks
There is a growing body of evidence pointing to the associated benefits of nurture group provisions for
vulnerable children and young people identified as experiencing social, emotional and behavioural
difficulties (Cooper & Whitebread, 2007; OConnor & Colwell, 2002). Consequently, there are an
increasing number of such provisions in schools (Cooper & Whitebread, 2007). However, closer
examination of the literature reveals childrens views on their nurture group experiences have neither been
sought or heard. Since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, empowerment of children
and young people, ensuring they have been consulted and heard, has become integral to legislation and
guidelines for professionals.
This brief practitioner pilot offers a novel, exploratory insight into childrens constructions of their
nurture group experiences in one primary school in Wales. This nurture group adhered to the classic model
as outlined by Bennathan and Boxall (2000); and was located within the mainstream school. The children
registered every morning and spent a minimum of one day a week in their mainstream classrooms. The
participants consisted of two girls and six boys in KS2 (ranging from 7 to 11-years-old). Six of the children
were attending the nurture group and two had recently reintegrated full time into their mainstream classes.
The children had attended the nurture group provision for between one and three terms. The researchers
spent time following the nurture group routine with the children prior to the focus group, which was
adapted to accommodate the childrens needs and incorporated into the nurture groups circle time. The
focus group allowed for information to be elicited and shared through various age-appropriate means,
including the election of a soft toy mascot, paired discussions, and the use of post-it notes with scribes on
hand. Thematic analysis of the childrens elicited constructions revealed themes broadly consistent with the
theoretical underpinnings and aims of the classic nurture group model. These included environmental
factors, relationships, self-regulation and learning. The findings emphasised the insight children have into
their experiences and their ability to express what works for them and why. The responsibility and benefits
of professionals actively seeking and valuing the voice of the child is discussed. The child-centred
methodology used may be a valuable vehicle for further research and practice within educational psychology
and other disciplines which seek to empower children and young people by eliciting the voice of the child.
Keywords: Nurture Groups; voice of the child; empowerment; child-centred methodology; emotional and
behavioural difficulties; researcher practitioner.

124

Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1


The British Psychological Society, 2014

Hearing the unheard: Childrens constructions of their Nurture Group experiences

Empowerment and the


voice of the child
INCE THE United Nations Convention
in 1989 on the Rights of the Child, giving
children and young people a voice has
become an integral component of a vast
amount of legislation and literature in the UK
(DfES, 2001; HM Government 2003, 2004).
More specifically, the Welsh Government
(WG) has adopted the childs voice at the
heart of all of its legislation, making it statutory
in 2010, and has translated it into the seven
Core Aims for all children and young people
in Wales (Welsh Assembly Government, 2005).
Additionally, Estyn (Her Majestys Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales)
has incorporated seeking pupils views into
their inspection framework, seeing the voice
of the child as a key element of a successful
learning environment (Estyn, 2008).
The benefits and positive outcomes of
pupil participation have been documented
for individual children and young people,
staff, organisations and communities
(Kendall et al., 2008; Lyle et al., 2010). These
benefits include gains for the learners themselves in terms of engagement, self-esteem,
confidence and personal skills and development (Lyle et al., 2010). Better relationships
between school staff and pupils have also
been reported. At an organisational level,
benefits include changes in organisational
practices, services and facilities, policy and
strategy developments. At a community level,
research has highlighted improved community safety, an improvement in the image of
children and young people within the
community and an increase in children and
young people providing support for their
peers within their communities (Kendall et
al., 2008). The value of actively involving
children and young people in research and
practice appears to lie in both the invaluable
messages conveyed to researchers and policy
makers as well as in the empowerment of
children and young people (Cullingford,
2006; Reid et al., 2010; Sellman, 2009).
Given such benefits, it is unsurprising that
the number of studies which seek the percep-

Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

tions of pupils continues to grow (Reid et al.,


2010). Against this backdrop, there is a distinct
dearth of research which seeks to advocate the
views of young people with additional learning
needs such as those with social, emotional and
behavioural difficulties (SEBD) (Sellman,
2009). Davies (2005) draws attention to the
large body of literature on pupil voice in relation to their educational provision from mainstream settings compared to the sparse
literature from SEBD pupils perspectives. Of
this literature it is predominantly secondary
school SEBD pupils perspectives which have
been sought (Cefai & Cooper, 2010; Michael
& Frederickson, 2013; OConnor et al., 2011;
Sellman, 2009). Findings from these studies
indicate that children in this population can
and do convey valid, challenging, and valuable
messages regarding the make-up of the
curriculum and the environments they feel to
be conducive to their learning.
Given these benefits, pupil voice should
rightfully underpin, and be an integral part
of, all professional practice for those
working with children and young people. Of
those professionals, educational psychologists (EPs) are said to be in a good position
to elicit childrens views neutrally, ensuring
that they are included in proposed plans for
their education (Department for Education
and Employment [DfEE], 2000). EPs themselves have reported that valuing childrens
views is one aspect of their role that they
perceive to be valuable to schools (Ashton &
Roberts, 2006). Todd, Hobbs and Taylor
(2000) argue that a central concern for every
EP should be how to develop professional
practice that genuinely enables the views of
children and young people to be heard.
Given the widely accepted role of the EP
as a scientist-practitioner (Fallon et al., 2010)
it is also important for EPs to consider ways of
eliciting children and young people voices
when engaging in research related to educational interventions underpinned by psychology. One such intervention developed by an
EP to address the needs of children and
young people with SEBD is that of nurture
groups (Bennathan & Boxall, 2000).
125

Rhian Griffiths, Rosanna Stenner & Una Hicks

Background and context of


Nurture Groups
A nurture group (NG) is a form of educational provision initially developed for young
children experiencing social, emotional and
behavioural difficulties (OConnor &
Colwell, 2002). Since the introduction of
NGs in the 1970s the number of NG provisions within local authorities across the UK
has grown exponentially (Cooper & Whitebread, 2007). The evidence base for NGs is
growing with a substantial number of empirical evaluations reporting a plethora of positive outcomes. (Bennathan & Boxall, 1998;
Binnie & Allen, 2008; Cooper et al., 2001;
Cooper & Tiknaz, 2005; Cooper & Whitebread, 2007; Gerrard, 2005; Iszatt &
Wasilewska, 1997; MacKay et al., 2010;
OConnor & Colwell , 2002; Reynolds et al.,
2009; Sanders, 2007; Scott & Lee, 2009).
The rationale for NGs is largely based on
attachment theory (Ainsworth et al., 1978;
Bennathan & Boxall, 2000; Bowlby,
1969/1981, 1973, 1980; Cooper & Tiknaz,
2005) and a sociocultural theory of learning
(Vygotsky, 1978). For the young to learn effectively, they need to feel secure and connected
to attuned adults they can trust, as well as
secure emotionally and physically within their
environments. In the absence of these conditions, the young child becomes insecure,
fearful and anxious. This elicits survival
related attachment behaviour which can be
maladaptive in mainstream settings. The
pupils who attend NGs often have experiences
of trauma, poor care at home or within the
authority and disadvantages or impairments in
learning. NGs, therefore, aim to enable these
youngsters to (re)experience attuned,
nurturing care through intensive interactions
within a predictable and safe environment.
The goal is that key adults will model positive
relationships and provide a safe environment
for them to learn and practice the social,
emotional and behavioural skills needed to
develop and maintain relationships. These
skills are thought to form the foundations to
enable functioning, managing and thriving
within a mainstream classroom environment.
126

A classic NG (Bennathan & Boxall,


2000) comprises of between 10 to 12 pupils,
with two adults mediating the learning
within the group. The nurture provision is
based on-site in the childs mainstream
school with children spending a minimum of
one half day in their mainstream classrooms
and registering there in the mornings. NG
staff develop a context within the provision
which models, fosters and develops relationships and social interactions that are responsive, consistent and caring. The daily routine
is explicit, uniform and predictable.
These espoused NG principles and
procedures advocated by Bennathan and
Boxall (2000) are not always observable
within practice. Cooper, Arnold and Boyd
(1998) identify four variants of the classic
NG provision. Variant one refers to the
classic NG as described above. Variant two
termed new variant NGs have the same
underlying principles as the classic model
but differ with respect to organisation
and/or structure. Variant three, referred to
as groups informed by NG principles, differ
fundamentally from both classic and new
variant models in respect to their organisation and structure, whereby NGs may take
place during lunchtimes or as after school
clubs. Variant four is described as aberrant
NGs. This variant simply bears the name of
the NG and fundamentally contradicts the
classic model both in terms of defining
principles and structure.

Research evidence and gap in the


literature
Published research into NGs can be
summarised under four categories: school
placement and individual support effects
(Iszatt & Wasilewska, 1997; Sanders, 2007),
classroom teacher and whole school effects
(Binnie & Allen, 2008; Cooper & Whitebread, 2007), cognitive and educational
effects (Cooper & Tiknaz, 2005; Cooper &
Whitebread, 2007; MacKay et al., 2010;
Reynolds et al., 2009) and the social,
emotional and behavioural effects on
students attending or who had previously
Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Hearing the unheard: Childrens constructions of their Nurture Group experiences


attended NG provisions (Bennathan &
Boxall, 1998; Binnie & Allen, 2008; Cooper
et al., 2001; Cooper & Whitebread, 2007;
Gerrard, 2005; OConnor & Colwell, 2002;
Sanders, 2007; Scott & Lee, 2009; Seth-Smith
et al., 2010).
A review of the literature indicates that
research has predominantly sought parental
and teacher reports to explore constructs of
interest. Despite being the primary stakeholders, the perspectives of the children
attending NG provisions are heavily underrepresented within the literature. Only two
studies were identified which qualitatively
explored the perceptions of the pupils
attending NG provisions (Bishop & Swain,
2000; Cooper et al., 2001). Bishop and Swain
(2000) retrospectively elicited the views of
pupils who had previously attended a NG
provision in order to gain evidence for
reopening a closed NG provision. In this
study the children identified the support
they received, the activities they engaged in
and the respite from being in a mainstream
classroom as being beneficial. Cooper et al.
(2001) as part of their research, conducted a
large number of individual interviews with
children attending NG provisions across 25
schools in two local authorities. The children
identified aspects of the nurture provision
they perceived as beneficial, including the
quality of the relationships with NG staff, the
pleasant nature of the NG environment in
respect to the physical attributes and the
predictability of the NG routines. Though
the large sample size is commendable the
researchers themselves acknowledge the
high level of demand characteristics arising
from the interview context as well as the lack
of generalisability due to the different variants of nurture provisions the children had
attended. A more naturalistic form of eliciting the childs voice and acknowledging
the variant of NGs may overcome some of
these difficulties.

Methodology rationale
Gersch (1996) suggests that without suitable
vehicles for children to express their beliefs,
Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

their genuine involvement is impossible.


The focus group (FG) methodology has
been proposed as a suitable vehicle for
children to express their views and beliefs
and has been used by a number of
researchers to gain pupils constructions
related to their education within a school
environment (Cullingford, 2006; Horowitz
et al., 2003; Reid et al., 2010).
FGs can provide a platform for young
children to share their views in a naturalistic
environment through the social interactions
facilitated between peers. They can provide a
context where children experience a high
level of comfort, a decrease in self-consciousness and an increase in their ability to express
themselves through a dialogue they are
comfortable with (Kennedy et al., 2001). FGs
offer a methodology that is sufficiently flexible to accommodate a wide range of
childrens needs (Horowitz et al., 2003)
whilst providing an interactive and evaluative
perspective to child centred research
(Kennedy et al., 2001). FGs can arguably
overcome some of the difficulties associated
with quantitative research measures that risk
missing the childs unique perspective.
Through their interactive and participatory
nature FGs also have the potential to reduce
demand characteristics that can arise
between an adult and child in an individual
interview context (Kennedy et al., 2001).
With this in mind, the current researchers
adopted and adapted a FG methodology to
meet the two-fold aims of the research.
Firstly, the researchers sought to elicit
childrens constructions of their NG experiences in order to contribute their voices to
the literature. Secondly, the researchers
sought to adhere to the principles underpinning EP practice in relation to eliciting and
hearing the voice of the child within a scientist-practitioner and researcher role. Central
to the methodology was the aim of placing
the children and their daily routine at the
centre of the research process. For this
reason the researchers spent a morning
following the usual nurture group routine,
including the sharing of food and partici127

Rhian Griffiths, Rosanna Stenner & Una Hicks


pating in circle time activities. The adaptations made to the FG format, in order to facilitate inclusion, encompassed involving the
children in forming explicit, age appropriate
boundaries for the FG. The ice-breaker activities; the utilisation of different methods of
recording the childrens construction, for
example, verbal responses, scribing, paired
discussions which were fed back to the group
and written responses. Questions and
prompts were formulated with the intention
of providing a skeleton format to the FG and
to stimulate discussion around the childrens
nurture group experiences. Thus, the adaptations made to the FG were aimed at
ensuring that the social, emotional and
behavioural needs of this vulnerable population were suitably addressed to maximise
their participation and provide a context
where they felt comfortable and empowered
to share their views.

Methodology
This research was undertaken as part of a
doctoral training programme in educational
psychology. The NG was situated within a
large dual-stream (Welsh and English
medium) school within a deprived area of
Wales. The NG had been established for a
significant period of time and followed the
classic NG variant.
The NG provision was an onsite facility
employing two full time members of staff
and was exclusively for children attending
the school. Children enrolled in the NG had
been identified as having additional learning
needs in the areas of social, emotional and
behavioural development. This vulnerable
group of children attended the provision for
either morning (Key Stage 2 [KS2]) or afternoon (Key Stage 1 [KS1]) sessions. The
children then spent the remainder of the
day in their mainstream class, with the
exception of one full day a week being allocated to their mainstream classroom. The
NG had been recognised by Estyn as an
outstanding feature of the schools provision
for learners with ALN (Estyn, 2010).

128

Participants
The sample comprised of eight children
(two girls, six boys), six of whom were at the
time attending the NG provision and two
who had recently reintegrated back into
their mainstream classrooms. All of the
children were currently in KS2 aged between
7 and 11 years of age. The length of time that
the children had attended the NG varied,
ranging between one and three terms attendance. KS2 attendees were chosen on the
premise that this older cohort may be more
developmentally able to articulate their
thoughts and feelings (Horwitz et al., 2003).
Procedure
Bilingual information sheets and informed
consent forms were sent to the children,
their parents, and the school two weeks
before the FG was to be conducted. The
sheets and forms were also adapted for the
children to ensure they were as child friendly
as possible. These adaptations included
pictures of the researchers and symbolic
representations. It was hoped this would
help the children feel more familiar with the
researchers and aid understanding of what
participation would entail.
After written informed consent was
obtained, two researchers travelled to the
school to facilitate the FG. In an attempt to
build rapport with the participants and make
the FG as child-centred as possible the
researchers engaged in the daily routine of
the NG for a morning session prior to data
collection. The routine included the sharing
of breakfast and a circle time session.
The FG lasted for approximately one
hour. During the FG the NG staff vacated the
classroom in an attempt to avoid any
demand characteristics elicited by their presence. The children were made aware of
where they could find the staff if needed.
The researchers verbally verified the
childrens informed consent, anonymity
within the study, and their right to withdraw,
or not answer/contribute, at any time. The
children and the researchers sat in a circle
with the dictaphone recorder in the middle.
Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Hearing the unheard: Childrens constructions of their Nurture Group experiences


The children were made aware of the
recording apparatus and were consulted
again regarding consent and anonymity.
Name badges were made and the group was
encouraged to outline some ground rules
with regard to appropriate behaviour within
the group. Two short, fun, ice-breaker activities were facilitated by the researchers and
were felt to have added to the relaxed nature
of the group. These activities also served to
mix the children up in terms of seating
arrangements.
The researchers presented the first question aimed at eliciting the participants
perceptions of the NG in the relative
comfort of a dyad with a familiar peer. Each
child within their pair was asked to:
Share three things you think about the NG
with your partner.
Each child then shared his/her partners
thoughts with the whole group. By conveying
their partners thoughts it was hoped that
pressure would be alleviated from individuals and this would yield richer information.
The second activity within the FG
comprised of a post-it note activity adapted
from Reid et al. (2010). The post-it note
activity required that children:
Write down on separate sticky notes what you
think is the same, and what you think is
different, about the NG and your other class in
school.
The researchers were available to scribe, or
further explain the concept of the activity for
the children if needed. The children then
stuck their answers onto two separate flip
charts, one for same and one for different.
The interactive and largely non-verbal
nature of this task was to enable the children
who did not feel as confident or able to
verbalise their responses to contribute their
thoughts and feelings. These contributions
were read aloud for the purposes of
including the data in the transcription for
analysis. Feeding the information responses
from the post-it note activity back to the
group also stimulated discussion between
the children. When the discussion came to
an end the researchers moved on to the final
Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

pre-formulated question.
The third question followed a circle time
format using a teddy, chosen by the children,
for all to contribute any other information
they wanted to share about how they thought
and felt about the NG. The children were
asked:
How does it make you feel being in the NG?
The teddy mascot provided a medium
through which most of the children were
able to share their thoughts and feelings.
Whilst the medium initially followed a circle
format in providing a clear structure for all
the children to contribute, they soon began
passing the teddy amongst themselves
during discussion. The teddy proved a useful
reminder that the children should try not to
talk over one another.
Following the process, the researchers
and children took part in a game chosen by
the children. The children were thanked for
their time and for sharing their thoughts.
The researchers then spent some time
looking at the childrens work which they
were eager to share. This activity, as well as
the distribution of stickers and formal
debrief sheets formed the child centred
debriefing process.

Results
The recording of the FG, including the
responses mediated by the researchers questions, the Post-it note responses which were
read aloud, and the constructions shared
during discussions following individual
responses, were transcribed and analysed
using thematic analysis based on the suggestions by Braun and Clarke (2006). The
researchers initially conducted the primary
analysis separately in order to increase the
validity of the themes identified. The separate primary analysis yielded largely consistent themes that subsequently formed the
primary theme map. Collaboratively the
researchers refined this map into a final
theme map (Figure 1). The broad themes
identified were the environment, learning,
self-regulatory behaviour and relationships.

129

Rhian Griffiths, Rosanna Stenner & Una Hicks


What are the key themes that were elicited from
the FG?
The themes described are based on the views
expressed by the children throughout the
FG. The researchers acknowledge that these
are based upon their constructions of the
childrens views.

Theme 1: Environment
Within this theme the subthemes of group
size, familiar and comfortable surroundings,
sharing breakfast and predictability were
identified. Sharing breakfast appeared to be
particularly salient in their responses. The
following are examples of statements said by
the children:
we have sercel (circle) time and relas sashon
(relax session).
its a small crowd.
we have sofers (sofas).
I feel good umm we dont have teachers like
Miss A and Miss B and they help us, and in
class (mainstream) I show off a bit because we
have more people and I fight for attention.

Theme 2: Learning
Within this theme the subthemes of scaffolding, rewards and recognition were identified. The following are examples of
statements within this theme:
so when you finish your work you can play
games or go on the laptop or something.
and then we can read, Miss A can read, and
we can have a little swap.
when we do work Miss A, Miss A will help us,
she wont just oh go and do this she helps us
out and stuff.
she tells us like she tells us stuff like, um you
do this, and like she like helps me figure it out,
like so, she tells us, she doesnt like just tell us
the answer, she makes it easier.

Theme 3: Self-regulatory behaviour


Within this theme the subthemes of coping
strategies, awareness, behavioural control
and emotional control were identified. The
130

children were able to identify and articulate


the strategies they had adopted since
attending the NG to manage their behaviour. The following are examples of statements within this theme:
umm I dont lose my temper as I used to
I can sometimes, but I dont lose it as much.
Miss told me, umm, I write it down, like you
can always write things down on a piece of
paper, like we got all about me books, so we
have I feel silly one, I feel sad one.
and then umm, I think about it again, I think
about it but if I think I am going to do it, I just
go and sit somewhere and think about it,
I dont like people coming to talk to me or
anything.

Theme 4: Relationships
Within this theme the subthemes of friendships, availability, feeling like a family,
belonging, predictability and trust were
identified. The following are examples of
statement within this theme:
ummmm its like a family and my friends in
here.
I like to come in here and talk to Miss A and
Miss B, because it helps me improve and stuff.
and get more friends so you dont feel alone.
Erm, I got loads of friends in ere, feels like
family

Discussion
The aims of the current pilot study were twofold. Firstly, the researchers sought to elicit
childrens constructions of their nurture
group experiences in order to contribute
their voices to the literature. Secondly, the
researchers sought to adhere to the principles and legislation underpinning EP practice in relation to eliciting and hearing the
voice of the child. In doing so, they feel that
a unique, child-centred methodology was
developed to ensure participant empowerment. Discussion will initially focus on the
research findings in relation to the
childrens constructions of their NG experiences followed by a discussion of the ways in
which the children were placed at the centre
of the research process.
Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Predictability

Belonging

Recognition

Learning

Trusting

Relationships

Feeling like
a Family

Rewards

Scaffolding

Friendships

Availability

Emotional
Control

Awareness

Coping
Strategies

Predictability

Sharing
Breakfast

Self-Regulatory
Behaviour

Familiar and
Comfortable
Surroundings

Environment

Behavioural
Control

Group Size

Figure 1: Final Theme Map.

Hearing the unheard: Childrens constructions of their Nurture Group experiences

131

Rhian Griffiths, Rosanna Stenner & Una Hicks


The information shared by the children
during the FG formed a data set rich in both
breadth and depth of constructions. The
level of insight demonstrated by the children
is consistent with the findings of other
researchers who have sought the pupil voice
with children of similar ages on other
matters such as school attendance (Reid et
al., 2010).
Four overarching themes were generated
from the data set; the environment,
learning, self-regulatory behaviour and relationships. The childrens constructions
within these themes emphasised the insight
they had into their experiences and their
ability to express what works for, and helps,
them and why. Broadly speaking, the themes
generated from the childrens constructions
of their nurture group experiences are
congruent with the theoretical underpinnings of NGs as identified within the literature (Bennathan & Boxall, 2000; Cooper &
Tiknaz, 2005; Cooper & Whitebread, 2007).
The childrens constructions within the relationships theme included a heavy focus on
the quality of the interactions between peers
and teachers and particularly the feeling of
belonging to a family within their NG. The
value the children placed on relationships is
in line with the findings of studies which
have sought secondary school SEBD pupils
perspectives on their education provision
(Cefai & Cooper, 2010; Michael & Frederickson, 2013; OConnor et al., 2011;
Sellman, 2009). The children demonstrated
an awareness of the impact the NG provision
had on themselves in the immediate context.
The children also revealed an awareness of
their thoughts and feelings regarding the
longer term impact of the provision. The
children talked about the wider array of
strategies they had developed whilst
attending the NG which they could now
draw upon for managing their behaviour.
The children emphasised their experiences
of relationships within their NG. Facilitating
the formation of such relationships are a
primary aim of NG interventions as underpinned by attachment theory (Bowlby, 1987)
132

and Vygotskys socio-cultural theory of


learning (Vygotsky, 1978).
Within the learning theme the children
identified a number of mediated learning
strategies they perceived as beneficial
including regular breaks and reducing task
complexity. These perceptions could also be
attributed to the scaffolding learning
approach advocated by the socio-cultural
theory of learning (Vygotsky, 1978). The
environment theme encompassed the high
number of environmental factors the
children identified as contributing to their
positive regard for their NG, including the
sharing of food and the comfortable and
familiar surroundings. These findings could
be attributed to the theoretical position of
Maslows Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943)
which is also recognised as an underpinning
of NGs (Cooper & Whitebread, 2007).
These findings are consistent with the
small number of studies which have sought
childrens views of their NG provisions
(Bishop & Swain, 2000; Cooper et al., 2001).
For example, Cooper et al. (2001) found
that the children perceived the quality of
relationships with NG staff, the pleasant
nature of the physical NG environment and
the predictability of the NG routines as beneficial. It is worth noting that this study did
not differentiate participants by the variant
of NG they attended. It could be suggested
that this generalisation may impact greatly
on the attendees experiences given that the
differences between variants can be substantial, as previously outlined. In addition, the
methodology adopted could be criticised
due to possible demand characteristics associated with individual interviews.
Attempts were made in the current study
to overcome the acknowledged shortcomings of demand characteristics in Cooper et
al.s (2001) study by adopting a child-centred
methodology. In addition, by isolating the
variant of NG being studied, in this
instance the classic NG, there was greater
capacity for the researchers to attribute the
findings to the specific NG provision. The
analysis of the childrens constructions
Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Hearing the unheard: Childrens constructions of their Nurture Group experiences


within this study are, broadly speaking, in
line with the espoused theory of classic NG
principles and thus this NG provision
appears to be an example of theory in action
(Argyris & Schon, 1974). The NG in question was recognised by Estyn as being an
outstanding feature of the schools provision
for learners with ALN (Estyn, 2010). These
factors may have impacted on the childrens
positive evaluations of their NG experiences.
Revisiting the children at the NG to explore
their interpretations of the themes generated during thematic analysis may have
enriched and extended the findings of this
explorative study. Furthermore, it is acknowledged that the generalisability of these findings is limited due to the individual context
of the single NG, the small sample size and
the individuality of the constructions
elicited. Although this research is small in
scale, the methodology provides a platform
from which to explore childrens experiences of NG provisions which differ from the
classic variant. By structuring the focus
group experience in an engaging, rule based
manner, it was sought to overcome the
accepted difficulty of small group discussions
in which some participants, notably the
older members of the group, can seek to
control the conversation (for a further
discussion on qualitative approaches, see
Greig et al., 2013).
Despite these shortcomings of the
present research the methodology employed
is considered to have offered a valuable
vehicle for achieving the primary aim of the
research, to elicit the childrens constructions of their NG experiences. The
researchers were mindful of the ethical
considerations of working with children and
young people (BPS, 2009; HPC, 2008) and
of the social, emotional and behavioural
needs of this vulnerable population
(Sellman, 2009). The child-centred process
may have empowered the young participants
to share their experiences, possibly by indirectly increasing their feelings of safety and
security. It is felt that an environment
conducive to conducting research with the
Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

children and young people rather than on


or to them was created. This process is
believed to have mediated the rich, revealing
data set elicited. The elements considered to
have been of particular importance to
creating this environment include the use of
age appropriate information sheets with
pictures of the researchers and close liaison
between the researchers and the NG staff
prior to data collection, ensuring that the
young participants were reminded and
prepared for the research. They appeared
excited to have their time to share their
views on the day. With the aim of extending
the feelings of familiarity and building
rapport the researchers had liaised with the
NG staff and arranged to spend the morning
following the NG routine alongside them.
The young participants served the
researchers breakfast and were eager to
share their NG with them including the environment, their work and their achievements.
The FG took place during the daily circle
time session. They also led the process of
generating positive behaviour expectations
for the session. The soft toy mascot served as
a visual aid to regulate group dynamics and
behavioural expectations throughout the
session. The ice-breaker activities were
invaluable in further developing rapport,
creating a relaxed atmosphere and ensuring
that the childrens positioning within the
circle was mixed with the aim of avoiding
dominant dyadic relationships. The variation in activities employed to elicit the
childrens constructions were suitably flexible to accommodate the range of developmental stages and skill sets within the group.
The variety of activities including paired
discussions and written communication
enabled quieter members of the group to
share their experiences.
The children were aware from the outset
of the purpose of the research and how the
data obtained would be used. It was felt that
by explicitly sharing with the young participants that the data obtained would be
written into a report, and be presented at a
university conference, they would see the
133

Rhian Griffiths, Rosanna Stenner & Una Hicks


purpose and impact of the research and feel
more empowered to share their views. They
were eager to discover who would be interested in the research and were reminded of
the anonymity and confidentiality of the
research.
The young participants appeared
engaged by the interactive, participatory
nature of the methodology. As a result, this
group of young people with additional
learning needs, demonstrated that they have
valuable insight into what environments are
conducive to their learning, what strategies
support their development and why. The
researchers consider that the methodological consideration given to the primary
aim of this research provided a platform
where the participants felt that they could
express their views, in their own space and in
their own words. The methodology provided
not only a valuable vehicle for eliciting the
voice of the young (Gersch, 1996) but also a
means of empowering this particularly vunl-

134

nerable young group . It enables them to


become active participants in their education and in making decisions surrounding
their education. The authors believe this
brief pilot study potentially motivates further
research and professional practice, particularly within the role of the EP (Todd et al.,
2000), and advocate similar methodologies
in practice to ensure that children and
young people are active participants who are
listened to and heard. EPs are in a good position to facilitate change through sharing
these practices and supporting other professionals to use and implement similar
methodologies.

Address for correspondence


Rhian Griffiths
School of Psychology,
Cardiff University,
Tower Building, Park Place,
Cardiff, CF10 3AT.
Email: Griffithsrc1@cardiff.ac.uk

Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Hearing the unheard: Childrens constructions of their Nurture Group experiences

References
Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E. & Wall, S.
(1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study
of the strange situation. New Jersey: Laurence
Erlbaum & Associates.
Argyris, C. & Schn, D. (1974). Theory in practice:
Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Ashton, R. & Roberts, E. (2006). What is valuable and
unique about the educational psychologist?
Educational Psychology in Practice, 22(2), 111123.
Bennathan, M. & Boxall, M. (1998). The Boxall profile.
London: Nurture Group Network.
Bennathan, M. & Boxall, M. (2000). Effective
intervention in primary schools: Nurture Groups.
London: Fulton.
Binnie, L.M. & Allen, K. (2008). Whole school
support for vulnerable children: The evaluation
of a part-time Nurture Group. Emotional and
Behavioural Difficulties. 13(3), 201216.
Bishop, A. & Swain, J. (2000). The bread, the jam and
some coffee in the morning: Perceptions of a
Nurture Group. Emotional and Behavioural
Difficulties, 5(3), 1824.
Bowlbly, J. (1973). Attachment and loss, Vol 2:
Separation, anxiety and anger. London: Hogarth
Press.
Bowlbly, J. (1980). Attachment and loss, Vol 3: Loss,
sadness and depression. London: Hogarth Press.
Bowlby, J. (1987). Attachment and loss, Vol. 1:
Attachment (2nd ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin
Books.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic
analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in
Psychology, 3(2), 77101.
British Psychological Society (BPS) (2009). Code of
Ethics and Conduct: Guidance published by the
Ethics Committee of the British Psychological
Society. Retrieved from:
http://www.bps.org.uk/system/files/
documents/code_of_ethics_and_conduct.pdf
Cefai, C. & P. Cooper (2010). Students without
voices: The unheard accounts of secondary
school students with social, emotional and
behaviour difficulties. European Journal of Special
Needs Education, 25(2), 183198.
Cooper, P., Arnold, R. & Boyd, E. (1998). The nature
and distribution of NGs in England and Wales.
Cambridge: University of Cambridge School of
Education.
Cooper, P., Arnold, R. & Boyd, E. (2001). The
effectiveness of Nurture Groups: Preliminary
research findings. British Journal of Special
Education, 28(4), 160166.
Cooper, P. & Tiknaz, Y. (2005). Progress and
challenge in Nurture Groups: Evidence from
three case studies. British Journal of Special
Education, 32(4), 211222.

Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Cooper, P. & Whitebread, D. (2007). The


effectiveness of Nurture Groups on student
progress: Evidence form a national research
study. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. 12(3),
171190.
Cullingford, C. (2006). Pupils views of the school
experience. In R. Webb (Ed.), Changing teaching
and learning in the primary school. Maidenhead:
Open University Press.
Department for Education and Employment (DfEE)
(2000). Educational psychology services: Current role,
good practice and future directions. Report of the
Working Group. London. The Stationery Office.
Department for Education and Skills (DfES) (2001).
Special Educational Needs Code of Practice.
Nottingham: The Stationery Office.
Davies, J.D. (2005). Voices from the margins: The
perceptions of pupils with emotional and
behavioural difficulties about their educational
experiences. In P. Clough, P. Garner, J.T. Pardeck
& F. Yuen (Eds.), Handbook of emotional behavioural
difficulties. London: Sage.
Estyn (2008). Having your say young people,
participation and school councils. Cardiff: Estyn.
Estyn (2010). A report on the quality of education in Ysgol
Gynradd Gymunedol Aberteifi. Cardiff: Estyn.
Fallon, K., Woods, K. & Rooney, S. (2010).
A discussion of the developing role of
educational psychologists within Childrens
Services. Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1),
123.
Gerrard, B. (2005). City of Glasgow nurture group
pilot scheme evaluation. Emotional and
Behavioural Difficulties, 10(4), 245253.
Gersch, I. (1996). Involving the child in assessment:
Creating a listening ethos. Educational and Child
Psychology, 13(2), 3140.
Greig, A., Taylor, J. & MacKay, T. (2013). Doing
research with children: A practical guide (3rd ed).
London: Sage.
Health Professionals Council (HPC) (2008).
Standards of conduct, performance and ethics.
Retrieved from:
http://www.hpc-uk.org/assets/documents/
10002367FINALcopyofSCPEJuly2008.pdf
Horwitz, J.A., Vessey, J.A., Carlson, K.L., Bradley, J.F.,
Montoya, C. & McCullough, B. (2003).
Conducting school-based focus groups: Lessons
learned from the CATS project. Journal of
Paediatric Nursing, 18(5), 321331.
HM Government (2004). The Children Act. Norwich:
The Stationery Office.
HM Government (2003). Every Child Matters.
Norwich: The Stationery Office.

135

Rhian Griffiths, Rosanna Stenner & Una Hicks


Iszatt, J. & Wasilewska, T. (1997). NGs: An early
intervention model enabling vulnerable children
with emotional and behavioural difficulties to
integrate successfully into school, Educational and
Child Psychology, 14(3), 121139.
Kendall, S., Straw, S., Jones. M., Springate, I. &
Grayson. H. (2008). Narrowing the gap in outcomes
for vulnerable pupils: A review of the research evidence.
Slough, Berkshire: NFER.
Kennedy, C., Kools & Krueger, R. (2001). Methodological considerations in childrens focus groups.
Nursing Research, 50(3), 184187.
Lyle, S., Hendley, D. & Newcomb, J. (2010).
The Teaching and Learning Research Programme in
Wales: Improving learning by taking account of
learners perspectives. Retrieved from:
http://www.pupilvoicewales.org.uk/uploads/
publications/534.pdf.
MacKay, T., Reynolds, S. & Kearney, M. (2010). From
attachment to attainment: The impact of
Nurture Groups on academic achievement.
Educational and Child Psychology, 27(3), 100110.
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation.
Psychological Review, 50(4), 37096.
Michael, S. & Frederickson, N. (2013). Emotional
and behavioural difficulties. Improving pupil
referral unit outcomes: Pupil perspectives,
Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. Published
online: 24 May.
OConnor, T. & Colwell, J. (2002). The effectiveness
and rationale of the Nurture Group approach
to helping children with emotional and
behavioural
difficulties
remain
within
mainstream education. British Journal of Special
Education, 29(2), 96100.
OConnor, M., Hodkinson, A., Burton, D. &
Tortensson, G. (2011). Pupil Voice: Listening to
and hearing the educational experiences of
young people with behavioural, emotional and
social difficulties (BESD). Emotional and
Behavioural Difficulties, 16, 289302.

136

Reid, K., Challoner, C., Lancett, A., Jones, G.,


ApRhysiart, G. & Challoner, S. (2010). The views
of primary pupils on school attendance at Key
Stage 2 in Wales. Educational Studies, 36(5),
465479.
Reynolds, S., MacKay, T. & Kearney, M. (2009).
Nurture Groups: A large-scale, controlled study
of effects on development and academic
attainment. British Journal of Special Education,
29(3), 204212.
Sanders, T. (2007). Helping children thrive at school:
The effectiveness of a Nurture Groups.
Educational Psychology in Practice: Theory, Research
and Practice in Educational Psychology, 23(1),
4561.
Sellman, E. (2009). Lessons learned: Student voice at
a school for pupils experiencing social,
emotional and behavioural difficulties. Emotional
and Behavioural Difficulties, 14(1), 3348.
Seth-Smith, F., Levi, N., Pratt, R., Fonagy, P. & Jaffey,
D. (2010). Do Nurture Groups improve the
social, emotional and behavioural functioning of
at risk children. Educational and Child Psychology,
27(1), 2134.
Scott, K. & Lee, A. (2009). Beyond the classic
Nurture Group model: An evaluation of parttime and cross-age Nurture Groups in a Scottish
local authority. Support for Learning, 24(1), 510.
Todd, L., Hobbs. C. & Taylor, J. (2000). Consulting
with children. A booklet of working approaches for
consulting with children. Newcastle: University of
Newcastle.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of
higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) (2005). Children
and young people: Rights to action, stronger
partnerships for better outcomes. Cardiff: WAG.

Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 31 No. 1

Copyright of Educational & Child Psychology is the property of British Psychological Society
and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without
the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or
email articles for individual use.