Renfrewshire’s Nurturing Relationships Approach
Why Nurturing Approaches?
Nurturing approaches are a recommended intervention to support children and young people’s mental health, wellbeing, attainment and future functioning (Cheney et al., 2014; 2010; National Institute for Health Care Excellence, 2013; Weare, 2015). Such approaches are likely to be more needed than ever given the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of children and the adults who support them reported by Barnardo’s, 2020.
Nurturing approaches are also recommended as an intervention that can be used to support children and young people who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma (Education Scotland, 2018). Maynard et al. (2019) suggest that schools are increasingly developing trauma-informed approaches as a result of the increased knowledge base on trauma and the negative impact it can have on children and young people.
Education Scotland (2018) suggests that trauma informed practices and nurturing approaches share several elements. These include: the emphasis on relationships to alleviate the impact of ACEs, the importance of early intervention, an awareness that there is a meaning behind behaviour, and a belief that poor outcomes can be mitigated with the correct support.
Traditionally children and young people with social, emotional, and behavioural needs resulting from early attachment experiences have been supported through nurture groups (Bennathan & Boxall, 2000; Reynolds et al., 2009). However, research has also suggested the benefits of incorporating nurturing approaches throughout the whole school (Cooper & Whitebread, 2007; Weare, 2015). As a result, whole school nurturing approaches have been developed more widely (Warin, 2016; Coleman, 2020). The Scottish Government promotes a whole establishment nurturing approach as key in supporting behaviour, wellbeing, attainment, and achievement in Scottish schools, including recommending the approach through several policy documents (Scottish Government, 2013; Scottish Government, 2017).
The Scottish Government suggests that key to nurturing approaches is an understanding of attachment theory and how early experiences can have a significant impact on development (Scottish Government, 2017). It also stresses that wellbeing and relationships are central to nurturing approaches (Scottish Government, 2017). Education Scotland’s ‘Applying Nurture as a Whole School Approach’ framework identifies that all school/ Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) staff have a role to play in establishing the positive relationships that are required to promote healthy social and emotional development.
Renfrewshire’s Nurturing Relationships Approach (RNRA)
In 2016, informed by research on whole school nurture approaches and Education Scotland guidance, Renfrewshire Educational Psychology Service (REPS) developed Renfrewshire’s Nurturing Relationships Approach (RNRA). RNRA is an authority wide, whole establishment, relational and trauma informed approach. It is a universal approach for supporting the wellbeing of all children and young people, but also recognises that some children and young people have experienced ACEs and trauma and may benefit from more targeted support (REPS, 2020). There is also an emphasis on supporting the wellbeing of adults, including practitioners and parents/carers.
RNRA is based on enhancing practitioners understanding of attachment theory and nurturing approaches and embedding practice based on the six principles of nurture (Lucas et al., 2006) (see figure 1) across the whole establishment community (REPS, 2020).
The Aims of RNRA are:
- To promote an understanding of attachment theory and of the importance of nurturing relationships in helping all children and young people to learn and develop socially and emotionally.
- To promote an understanding of the six nurture principles and support establishments to embed these at a whole establishment level.
- To support practices which will improve wellbeing and promote resilience for children and young people.
- To introduce an approach to implementation which is evidence-based and therefore has the best chance of delivering a sustainable approach for establishments and children and young people.
Figure 1. The Six Principles of Nurture (NurtureUK, 2020b, p.2)
RNRA Implementation model
The RNRA approach to implementation has been a key part of the success of this initiative. The RNRA implementation model (see figure 2) integrates an implementation science framework (Meyers et al., 2012), a coach consult model (Balchin et al., 2006) and quality improvement (QI) approaches, including action research cycles based on the model for improvement (Langley et al., 2009) to embed nurturing practice across the whole establishment in an evidence based and sustainable way (REPS, 2020).
Figure 2. RNRA Implementation Model
Each RNRA establishment follows the RNRA implementation model which includes: readiness assessment; leadership training for those leading the initiative within an establishment; whole establishment training (to increase knowledge about attachment theory and nurturing approaches, including the six nurture principles); the setting up of an RNRA core group of practitioners to lead the implementation, including developing and evaluating the establishment’s RNRA action plan; On-going coach consult support is provided by REPS. The coach consult model aims to increase establishments ownership of the whole establishment nurturing approach and sustainability.
RNRA is a whole establishment approach and encourages that all establishment staff attend training and can opt-in to be part of the RNRA core group. This includes all teaching and support staff and business support, janitorial and kitchen staff. Typically, RNRA core groups have between six and ten members. Coleman (2020) reports on the key role that leadership plays in leading the change to establish a whole school nurturing culture, and the core group always includes a member of the senior leadership team.
This RNRA model of implementation is consistent across establishments, but the way in which the initiative develops is bespoke, as each establishment develops practice in a way that suits its context and identified needs. Almost all authority establishments in all sectors are now engaged in RNRA, and, for the first time this academic year we have extended RNRA into partnership nurseries, with 24 new ELCC Senior Leaders trained in leading RNRA in their establishment.
What difference does RNRA make?
A doctorate evaluation was carried out, evaluating the impact of RNRA in three primary and one secondary school (Nolan, 2020). This suggested that RNRA leads to:
- A positive impact on staff’s skills, practice, knowledge and understanding
- Positive changes in staff mindset
- The implementation of new interventions
- The promotion of nurturing relationships
- Positive changes to the environment.
- Positive social, emotional, and behavioural effects on children and young people in the primary and secondary sectors (Nolan, 2020).
See figure 3.
Figure 3. RNRA Impact
Parents/carers views of nurture in their school:
'X is a safe and happy learning environment which encourages a love of learning and which places school values of friendship, learning and inclusiveness. For my child her well-being and happiness is most important as we know that children learn more and succeed when they are relaxed and happy.'
'Kids first and a genuine caring nature observed in all staff.'
'The kindness of all children is undoubtedly one of the best things about the school. All children regardless of primaries help and play with other children. There is a heartfelt feeling of community and inclusion at the school.'
'Every member of staff knows your child and makes every conscious effort to ensure they enjoy their school experience.'
Children and young people’s views of nurture in their school:
'Teachers care about how you are.'
'Feeling safe in classes. Being happy at School. Getting help.'
'When you are going to class a teacher is there to welcome you.'
'The dinner ladies are very nice gave me food when I never had enough money on my card.
I wasn’t feeling the best, so I went down to pupil support for some help. The teacher helped me calm down and I felt a lot better.'
'Making sure we are okay, they listen to us and makes us feel good.'
Some quotes from practitioners about the impact of RNRA training on their practice:
“I am working with the children to develop the calm corner after engaging with the training and identifying the need for calm, quiet spaces within the playroom.”
(Partnership nursery core RNRA training)
“Remember that resilience can be built at any age/stage. Look out for colleagues more as staff wellbeing directly impacts the pupils”
(Secondary school Wellbeing NP training)
“Build more scaffolding into the relationships I already have with pupils. Ensure/focus on my own wellbeing too”
(Secondary school Wellbeing NP training)
“Building resilience to promote nurture and positive relationship building within the school environment. "I have" "I can" "I am" strategies.”
(Primary school Wellbeing NP training)
Heads of establishments views about the impact of RNRA at a whole establishment level:
“RNRA has positively impacted our whole school community. It has influenced our values and vision which permeates everything that we do. We feel much more equipped to support inclusion and it has fostered a culture of affiliation and belonging.”
"Children accessing more time in class - staff better equipped with strategies to support children within the classroom, resulting in a reduction of time spent out of class with SLT." (Senior Leadership Team)
“We have adopted a shared language and developed a suite of rooms for distressed children who may need a space. We have also adapted our staffing to include a Key Worker.”
“We are recording a lower number of violent incidents.”
“…due to having positive relationships embedded across the school, pupils are no longer excluded from their classroom or school but instead individual strategies agreed together to support pupils with inclusion in the classroom. As a result of this, inclusion means that the learning and teaching flows better which supports raising attainment. Pupils feel happier in their class knowing that their teacher understands them and their needs.”
“As a whole school we take time to consider all aspects of our children’s life. This helps us to build positive relationships with children, siblings and parents.”
“Parental workshops supported by Ed Psych have also had an impact, with parents having a better understanding of the language to use when there are disputes at home.”