VULNERABLE pupils are benefiting from a £2 million roll-out of pioneering new “nurture classes”.
The innovative sessions – targeted at youngsters experiencing challenges with their social and emotional wellbeing – have been piloted at 35 primary and secondary schools in West Lothian.
Instead of the classic blackboard-and-desk arrangement, pupils gather in secure rooms kitted out with cushions, snack tables and toys aimed at comforting and relaxing them.
The goal, say teachers, is to encourage open dialogue about personal issues which prevent progress at school, and help youngsters develop positive bonds with each other and staff.
Schools in Edinburgh are also trying the new approach and nurture centres are now operating at Canal View, Craigroyston and St Francis primaries, and James Gillespie’s High.
But with children in West Lothian spending up to four hours a week away from mainstream teaching, the classes have come under fire from some parents.
One said the money “could be put to a better use buying books and jotters rather than a couch and pillows and feeling games”.
However, psychologists insist the sessions are having a positive impact, with individual case studies indicating dramatic improvements in attendance and exclusion rates.
Lynne Binnie, West Lothian’s depute principal educational psychologist, said: “My argument is that if children don’t have social and emotional skills, they find learning them in the classroom really difficult, and they cannot participate in course or group work.”
Although nurture groups have already been offered to very young school children, the West Lothian programme has extended them to P5-S2.
The sessions typically involve up to ten youngsters who spend around four periods each week engaging with a wide range of topics – from how the school day has begun to more in-depth exploration of underlying personal problems.
“It’s an emotional training for them,” said Ms Binnie, adding that pupil behaviour during the classes is scrutinised closely by psychologists and teachers.
“Lots of these children have complicated family lives or are in care. It’s about helping them deal with their emotions and come to terms with themselves. As a result, they’re better able to learn.” Dad Alexander O’Neill, 44, said son, Alexander, 11, had been transformed by a nurture group at Knightsridge Primary, Livingston, after suffering severe anxiety.
He said: “Alexander had Perthes syndrome when he was younger, which affected his hips. He was home tutored at first and found it really hard when he went to school. But he’s brilliant now – he’s a different laddie.”