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#931 Improving behaviour and engagement in a nurture group – Alton Park Junior School

Toni Barnes

What did we do?

The problems that we faced in “Apollo”, our newly established Nurture suite were:

  • unsafe and violent behaviours
  • conflict between pupils
  • confrontational and defiant behaviour towards staff
  • an inability to work collaboratively
  • unable to share and take turns
  • difficulty in engaging in meaningful learning

We also needed to develop shared behaviour policies, clear expectations and procedures to ensure consistency and clear rules. Children didn’t have the understanding of self-regulation and we didn’t have displays or strategies in place to effectively use this.

My goals were to:

  • Get children to engage in activities.
  • Put up an interactive self-regulation display
  • Working collaboratively together in therapy-based role play.
  • Give children the skills and resources to help them understand their emotions and how they can control them.

“I like the role play, I like you joining in playing with us. My favourite one is when you were the patient, and I was the doctor”

“I learnt how to put a leg bandage on, I liked being a doctor”


Summary of impact

I used strengths and difficulties questionnaires pre and post project to see if the children had made any progress. There had been significant change in a few of the children. They were working collaboratively together, communicating on a social level and encouraging one another. Unfortunately during this process one child was permanently excluded as a result of his behaviour, which is unfortunate as at the beginning, he was the one who really flourished with the therapy based role play and got so involved. He took on roles and used appropriate language toward other children and staff and he seemed to be engaged more. I believe there was turning point for this child and it was due to a holiday within in term time. All 4 boys started off so engaged, willing and excited but when 4 became 3, problems started to shine and the behaviour and dynamic changed.

The modelling behaviour and language from the staff had a big impact, the use of the interactive self-regulation display started off positive but then they didn’t use it so this will need to be looked at and changed to get the best out of it.

Throughout the weeks when the children were engaged in the projects, we saw lots of different behaviours, all of which were positive. Working together, engaging in different activities and good communication was just some of the changes we saw.

Steps taken

The process I went through was firstly I did a questionnaires and observations on each of the children in my care to see where they were in terms of their learning and behaviour. I took on board their interests and decided to look at activities

I spoke to several members of staff and ran my ideas past them for any suggestions and ideas. After observing the children I noticed that role play was a big thing for them and I realised I had to go with this. During their play I had noticed that all the play was very negative, negative language, behaviour, there was always someone with a gun and 9 times out of 10 the play would end up in a fight which made the children and atmosphere very tense. I decided to take this play and get involved by modelling positive behaviours, positive language and I guided them into situations and gave them the language and resources to deal with the situations.

Together we started to make resources to go along with our role play and late on decided to add themed play in, like Star Wars and Harry Potter. Occasionally this ended in fighting, but it was non-contact and we would change the language from negative to positive, my involvement helped to keep it from getting out of control as I was able to change the dynamic and take the lead when I felt it was necessary. The children were interacting together and able to listen and take on board other people advice, which wasn’t something that was possible beforehand.

During the project the children didn’t respond to Lego as much as I had hoped. We tried to do Lego sessions but as I hadn’t been able to do a Lego therapy course, the children and I lost interest. So we started to play games like top trumps as again this was from their interests and their lead. These 10 minute games were fantastic because it was all about turn taking, winning, loosing, reading and numeracy.

I realised quickly that if an activity wasn’t working for whatever reason, it was important to change it before the children get angry. Top trumps worked out really well for us and it is a game that the children activity play without any adult intervention now. During the process, observation and discussion was a key part. We needed to as a staff team continue our communication and observe.

What would we do differently

These are my words of wisdom:

Start off slow- don’t try to build Rome in a day, it won’t work. I feel like I had all these ideas and wanted to put them into effect straight away and it was too overwhelming. I needed to make small changes as opposed to big changes. I needed to take time and realise that I wouldn’t change each child’s mind-set straight away. I needed to take the time to learn myself and encourage the children to engage along with me.

I also learnt that even though my intervention was aimed at 4 children this was plenty as their needs and behaviours were so complex that I needed small groups and maybe even smaller ones to really get the results. Take your time, be organised and make sure the time that is allocated for the intervention is taken.


Time was a big issue, I work in Apollo from 8:45 till 12:00 which is when the children go home. I only had a small window of opportunity to implement my project and this was entirely dependent on the behaviour of the children in the room.

Cost is also an issue, as all the courses I have looked at for example nurture UK course and Lego therapy are expensive and need to be run through the head teacher, Sigma and Finance. This is something that will be looked at in September.

See how others have implemented this Big Idea

Sensory Circuits - St Marys Catholic Primary Ipswich

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Identifying Emotions and Managing Self-Regulation - St Joseph's Catholic Primary

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Philosophy Sessions - Harwich Community Primary School & Nursery

Supporting anxiety in children and parents - Spring Meadow Primary School

Securing Engagement Through SEL - Clifford Road Primary

Securing Engagement - Spring Meadow Primary

The Learning Behaviour Lead role - Ravenswood Primary School

Putting EEF "Learning Behaviours" guidance into action - Halifax Primary School

Securing Engagement - Alton Park Junior School

Removing the literacy barrier to learning - Clacton County High School

Wellbeing Workshops - Westbourne Academy

1-1 Support to Improve Engagement and Grades - One Sixth Form

Improving Behaviour with Projection Education - Trimley St Martin Primary School

Establishing a nurture space - The DEN at Trimley St Martin Primary School

The Inclusivity of EAL families within our School Community. - St Margaret's Primary School Ipswich

EAL Parental engagement at Northgate High School

Being a Learning Behaviour Lead - Ipswich Academy

Improving Handwriting - Clacton Coastal Academy

Reading and Phonics at Dale Hall

"Club Aspirations" improving self esteem and confidence at Rushmere Hall Primary

Improving learner confidence in handwriting and spelling - Clacton Coastal Academy

Tackling lunchtime dysregulation and classroom focus - Castle Hill Primary School

Finding the right intervention to support engagement - Murrayfield Primary Academy