Back in 2015 Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation agreed to fund a three year nurture project in 10 Letchworth schools, delivered by LearnIT. The project launched in 2016 and earlier this year, we were invited to observe a session to see first-hand the difference our grant has made.
The early years at school are incredibly important: a good start should, the theory goes, see a child embrace a passion for lifelong learning and hopefully go on to develop to their full potential.
But some children can find these first few years of school a real struggle, with some falling behind due to a combination of social, emotional and behavioural issues. The worry is that following a negative start, these children will never reach their full potential.
Setting up for the afternoon’s LearnIT session Education Manager Rena Niles explains how the LearnIT nurture group aims stop this downward spiral in its tracks: “We’re essentially an early intervention group for children who are struggling in the mainstream classroom. This could be due to a number of reasons and our aim is to promote education and wellbeing in an alternative setting, to hopefully give these five and six-year olds the best chance to get back on track.”
As the six children come in for their session, (there are never no more than six children with two adults working together) there’s an immediate sense of calm around the room, setting the tone for the afternoon.
The group works together for an hour following a purposeful routine. There’s an opening greeting song, before circle time activities and a chance for the children to express how they’re feeling - happy, sad, OK- and, crucially, a chance to say why. There’s a small break for some refreshments with everyone responsible for one aspect, be it laying out the cups, or packing away the plates.
It is clear that this is not a group that sits down to practice phonics or number bonds. Over the hour, children are encouraged to take turns, watch and listen, learn from others, and develop a positive attitude to participation.
“At its most basic level we’re focusing on social skills and developing self-esteem,” explains Rena. “We want these children to take responsibility for themselves and to think about their actions and the subsequent impact. Being able to make wise choices through an understanding of the consequences is a learned skill.”
Whilst the session takes place outside the main classroom, the programme works in partnership with the school, with regular feedback and training for the wider school community.
But is it working? As we pack away after the session Rena is certain it is: “Without a doubt this programme is working,” she says. “In this group alone we’ve got children who initially struggled to take turns whilst playing a game now able to do so and those who found sitting and following instructions almost impossible, are showing more patience each week. They’re listening and following instructions – it’s fantastic progress.”
Indeed, feedback from staff and children has been incredibly positive to date. The programme started in six schools and was adopted by 10 of the 11 primary schools in Letchworth after just two terms. Without support from the Heritage Foundation some of these schools could not fund this programme. “We’re incredibly thankful to the Heritage Foundation for all its support.” commented Rena. “Through this nurture programme we’re able to make a significant impact on these young people, helping them develop vital skills which will see them through their education and beyond.”