nurtureuk CEO Arti Sharma: The recent tragic reminder of why children need the right support in school

The tragic death of Ben Nelson-Roux couldn't be a more compelling reminder of the need to give our children the right support in school.

The destruction of a young boy's life sadly feels all too familiar. These terrifying tales are told many times over in the report from the Commission on Young Lives 'Hidden in Plain Sight'.

Like many other youngsters, Ben had been excluded from school before being preyed on by drug dealers. A number of complex factors led to his death, and school was just one part of his life, but could things have been different if Ben had experienced nurture practice in an educational setting?

We know that gang-associated children are five times more likely to have been permanently excluded in the previous academic year, and six times more likely to have been in alternative provision, compared to other children assessed by children's services.

Exclusions disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged children and children with social, emotional, and mental health needs are ten times more likely to receive a fixed period exclusion.

Teachers, who are often juggling high workloads, the multiple and diverse needs of pupils, and the pressure to deliver academic results, want the very best for the children in their care. But they must be properly supported and resourced to deliver it. Nurture provides them with the proven tools they need to help children thrive.

'Nurture' is a well-recognised word defined in the Oxford dictionary as a verb; nurture somebody/something to care for and protect somebody/something while they are growing and developing.

We all get that, it makes sense; it evokes imagery of being safe, understood, heard, and protected. It seems perfectly natural that as adults we would want to create a nurturing environment so young people can thrive in all aspects of their lives.

Why then is nurture not the norm in schools? The safe place where children and young people go to grow and develop?

Nurture is a tried and tested way of helping children develop vital social skills, confidence, and self-esteem, and becoming ready to learn. It improves attendance, behaviour and attainment and reduces exclusions. Structure, boundaries and trusting relationships are key to a nurturing approach. In 'Hidden in Plain Sight' Anne Longfield asks: "Who could propose that all our schools are well-funded and inclusive, that exclusions are always a last resort and that every child gets the help they need to succeed?" We know, of course, that this is not the case.

That's why nurtureuk's work with education professionals is so vital.

We work with over 4,000 schools in the UK but we want to see nurture in every school because we know it works. We fully support the Commission's call for a greater focus on nurture in schools and welcome its proposed new national action plan to protect those most at risk of exploitation and harm and to support all young people to leave education with improved life chances.

We also welcome the latest behaviour guidance from the Department for Education (DfE), which highlights the importance of a whole school approach. I wholeheartedly agree with the ambition that 'all schools should be calm, safe environments with pupils in school and ready to learn', a good move away from the more punitive approach of former guidance.

At nurtureuk we're working to create a culture where nurture is the norm, and we believe this starts even before a teacher enters the classroom. We're calling for a national plan that includes teacher training modules in whole school nurturing approaches and early identification of the root causes of social, emotional, mental health and well-being barriers to learning. This would fully equip a newly qualified teacher with the means to identify and support those pupils in need of help - keeping children safe and happy in school and perhaps preventing other young people from suffering some of the horrors that Ben and his family have endured.

For existing school staff, we need to see more funded training and development opportunities that give them the tools to create a safe, enjoyable place to learn, and a feeling of belonging and connectedness for both staff and pupils - supporting wellbeing and academic achievement.

A repurposed Ofsted framework, based on the six principles of nurture, would provide a fairer and more consistent approach to assessing behaviour, attitudes and personal development - giving school leaders the confidence to establish an inclusive environment without reproach.

There is no quick fix to the growing risks for vulnerable young people but we know that nurture is a sustainable solution. Keeping children safe, supported and flourishing in school is a fundamental piece of the puzzle and nurture is the key to making that happen. We're determined to keep changing lives by ensuring children are ready and able to learn. We very much look forward to continuing to work with all those who are striving to change the system for the better. Let's ensure children and young people have the best possible chance of successful futures.

Arti Sharma is CEO of nurtureuk, the charity that helps schools meet children's social, emotional and mental health needs, ensuring they are ready to learn.

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