Glasgow is a ‘Nurturing City’ but what does that mean for their children and young people? Alison Crawford and Jenni Kerr take us through their journey so far.
We began our journey towards becoming a ‘nurturing city’ in 2001. At that time we could really see the impact that poverty and other disadvantages were having on children across Glasgow and how that was affecting their learning experiences, and crucially their early development. We needed to try a different approach and the model of Nurture Groups developed by Marjorie Boxall in inner London was a good fit with the aspirations that Glasgow Education services had for its children. And so, the start of the new millennium also marked the start of Glasgow’s nurturing journey.
We are often asked: what is a nurturing approach and what does that mean when it comes to early education and schools?
A nurturing approach is about helping schools to create a safe base for our children and young people. For example, many of our schools have peer support programmes which can include playground buddies, peer mentors or mental health ambassadors. These programmes empower our young people and create a sense of belonging in their schools.
We started small with just four nurture groups and when we had evidence of positive impact we expanded to include more schools. We now have 68 nurture groups in primary and 16 in our secondary schools. Our goal as a nurturing city is that children and young people feel they are valued, they belong and are listened to. Examples of this include schools having nurture steering groups where pupils make decisions about approaches to use in their school, such as deciding the contents of calm boxes in classes.
It’s not always been easy and our ‘Glasgow model’ has been developed over time and is the result of a great deal of research, collaboration and robust discussion. Nurture is not a soft and fluffy cure-all; effectively embedding nurturing approaches is a community effort which does not dodge the hard conversations or take the easy path. But when you get it right, this approach helps children feel safe, creates a strong sense of community, and helps increase attendance at school and reduce exclusions. As Councillor Graham Campbell, Chair of Education, Skills and Early years City Policy Committee recently recognised: “The nurture approach in Glasgow has been key to the attainment gains it has had over the last 15 years”.
So what have we learned and what should you think about if you are also interested in taking a ‘nurturing’ approach?
- A shared and consistent vision is essential. When that vision is repeated and threaded through all aspects of education, the message is strengthened and becomes part of the language of the system. Supporting leadership at all levels to progress this vision is vital. It helps us build an informed and responsive workforce and examine our practice – quality is key!
- Focus on improving outcomes: build systems for research, self-evaluation and quality assurance. Those outcomes could be a good lesson, a happy day or a positive leaving destination at the end of a school career. Data is your friend; we all need to know that our efforts are making the difference we need.
- Let children and young people speak: they told us what they needed and will hold us accountable to deliver on that. Their voices are so important to informing our next steps and evidencing the difference that nurture makes for them. When children and young people actively contribute to nurturing approaches in their school and see their suggestions in place, it creates a sense of belonging and empowers autonomy.
- Positive relationships foster positive outcomes. Warm and respectful relationships underpin every interaction we have, especially with parents and carers. Acknowledging the crucial importance of strong family bonds, we must do everything we can to help our children be raised in homes, educated in establishments, and surrounded by communities committed to loving and nurturing care.
- Persevere: once you have decided that a nurturing approach suits your context and meets the needs of your children and young people – stick with it. So often initiatives can be knocked off course by poor implementation, lack of longer-term planning and the appearance of the next ‘new thing’.
- Celebrate success at every opportunity: recognise people’s hard work, congratulate children and young people, acknowledge the commitment of parents and carers. Use every means at your disposal.
Becoming a Nurturing City is what might be called a stretch aim for Glasgow: we are unlikely to get there on our own and certainly not without a good dose of creativity and the ability to be flexible. Learning how to embed and embody nurturing approaches across a whole school community takes time and commitment, for us it has been a career long journey!
Alison Crawford & Jenni Kerr