Nurture Advisory & Support Service (NASS)

The Education Authority (EA) is committed to the delivery and implementation of effective prevention and early intervention methodology, such as nurturing approaches, which will secure improved outcomes for children and young people regardless of age, stage and ability.

The Nurture Advisory & Support Service (NASS) is the newly established regional Service within the Education AuthNuturing Advisory Support Service Logoority’s Children and Young People’s Services (CYPS) Directorate. The NASS supports the Department of Education (DE) funded nurture groups in primary schools across Northern Ireland, and has subsequently managed the development of the Whole School Nurturing Approaches (WSNA) programme, renamed the Nurture in Education Programme to support the development of whole school nurturing approaches (WSNA) across ALL education sectors.

“To inspire, support and challenge all our children and young people to be the best that they can be”

The new NASS’s model of service delivery will comprise of two main aspects of support:

  • Support and monitoring of the DE funded Nurture Groups across the EA;

This includes the provision of advice and guidance on operational arrangements, placement procedures, necessary planning and practice of nurture provision; Teacher Professional Learning (TPL) in relation to whole school TPL, and bespoke TPL; best practice sharing via cluster support arrangements; provision of early intervention and preventative school based supports through modelling of interventions.

  • Promote the sustainable delivery of effective whole school nurturing approaches across all education settings through the Nurture in Education Programme.

The NEP programme is an early intervention and preventative framework that seeks to embed nurturing approaches and ethos within all schools across the Education Authority (EA). The programme promotes the key principles of attachment, consistency and resilience at a whole school level by utilising the six principles of nurture to enable children who attend schools, in challenging circumstances, to begin to have more consistency and stability in their lives. The NASS provides advice, guidance and support in relation to early intervention and preventative practice through Teacher Professional Learning (TPL) in relation to whole school TPL, and bespoke TPL; provision of early intervention and preventative school based supports through modelling of interventions.

Through the above two programmes the service aims to improve educational, social, emotional and well-being outcomes for children and young people within a whole school framework. This early intervention, preventative model of support is beneficial for all pupils and provides a range of learning experiences to support the development of their social, emotional and behavioural skills, thus, encouraging success at school and with peers. Early intervention universal support can have protective benefits, especially for children and young people with life challenges. Therefore, the work of NASS is connected to the wider work of the EA’s CYPS Directorate, and compliments the early intervention and preventative work of Primary Behaviour Support & Provisions (PBS&P).

The NASS consists of a Regional Manager, Locality Coordinators, and Intervention Officers that provide key delivery aspects of the service. This includes the establishment, support and monitoring of nurture groups. The development and implementation of the NEP model of support providing advice, guidance and capacity building to schools across all phases relative to embedding the nurture principles and approaches and the facilitation of modelling interventions to disseminate best practice / practical strategies.

What is Nurture?

To Nurture by definition means “To care and protect” *1.

 In the context of Education the word gives rise to a ‘specific, meaningful, and purposeful connotation’ describing the needs of children, the ethos of assistance provided, and the learning experiences acquired *2. Emotional well-being underpins learning.  Nurture, Nurture Groups, and Nurturing Approaches allow children to flourish emotionally, where each child can learn, develop and grow, based on their individual needs.

*1 Oxford English Dictionary

*2 Marjorie Boxall (revised and updated by Sylvia Lucas) (2010). Nurture Groups in Schools: Principles and Practice. Second Edition.  Sage Publications. London. Page 13). 

What is a Nurture Group?

Nurture groups were originally developed during the 1960’s in London due to large numbers of children entering schools with severe social, emotional and behavioural needs. These pupils were unable to form trusting relationships with adults or to respond appropriately to other children – in effect, they were simply not ready to meet the social and intellectual demands of school life (Marjorie Boxall (revised and updated by Sylvia Lucas) (2010).

The nurture group is run by a specially trained qualified teacher and classroom assistant who offer a warm, structured environment where each child is encouraged to build their confidence and learn positive behaviour.

The nurture group is a small class within the school that is set up like a home, with a living area, kitchen and dining area. There is a set routine so the children know what they will be doing each day.  Children attending the group also start the day and spend some time with their main class, and take part in all school activities.

A nurture group allows children to flourish emotionally. It is a safe place in school where each child can learn, develop and grow, based on their individual needs. It offers “a short term, focussed, intervention strategy, which addresses barriers to learning arising from social, emotional or behavioural difficulties through an inclusive and supportive manner. Central to the philosophy of nurture is the theory of attachment, and the need for a child to be able to form secure and happy relationships with others in the formative years of their lives. The nurture group provides an opportunity for a child to re-visit early nurturing experiences” (Department of Education Northern Ireland).

In essence, the nurture group’s “aim is to replace missing early experiences by developing positive pupil relationships with both teachers and peers in a supportive environment” (Nurture UK).

The Six Principles of Nurture

  1. Children's learning is understood developmentally - Early learning experiences. We need to reinforce neural pathways to strengthen them to do the same tasks lots of times.
  2. The classroom offers a safe baseRelationships are key. We need to feel safe and to trust our environment and the people around us to progress.
  3. The importance of nurture for the development of well-being - If we practice something enough we will get better at it …
  4. Language is a vital means of communication - Language has to be heard, used, practiced and relevant to the situation. Develops sequentially.
  5. All behaviour is communication - Relationships. We need to feel safe, to trust our environment and the people around us so we can develop new modes of behaviour.
  6. The importance of transition in children's lives - Experiencing good relationships (and nurture) is the best predictor for learning readiness.

(Ref: Lucas,S., Insley,K. and Buckland,G. (2006) Nurture Group Principles and Curriculum Guidelines Helping Children to Achieve, The Nurture Group Network).

Nurture in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, nurture provision has been operating for many years, with some schools self-funding or accessing funds through the Department for Social Development (DSD) Neighbourhood Renewal Investment Fund.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) announced funding for 20 new nurture groups in 2012, through the Delivering Social Change (DSC) Signature Projects. The DSC Nurture Signature Project was a 2-year initiative established in 2013 with the objective of providing 20 new nurture groups in primary schools across Northern Ireland. The location of the nurture groups were identified by using objective criteria based on areas of need.

A parallel programme for 10 well-established nurture groups ran alongside, funded initially by the Department of Social Development (DSD) then latterly the Department of Education (DE).

Although the DSC Nurture Signature Project funding ceased in June 2015, DE secured further funding through the Department of Finance (DFP) Change Fund, which enabled the 30 groups to be sustained, in addition to establishing 2 further nurture groups within the Irish Medium Sector.

The Department of Education (DE) and DSD were involved in delivering this project initially and the DE invested further funds for the continued provision of the 10 established nurture groups in schools whose funding was ending.

In 2017, the Nurturing Approaches in Schools Service (NASS) was established as a regional service to support the established 31 Department of Education (DE) funded nurture groups in primary schools across Northern Ireland, and has subsequently managed the development of the Whole School Nurturing Approaches (WSNA) programme.

In September 2020 the Minster for Education announced an expansion to the nurture programme with an additional £4 million for the development of nurturing approaches across all education phases and sectors. This funding arrangement includes the following;

  • Establish 15 new Nurture Groups before 1 January 2021;
  • The extension of the Whole School Nurturing Approach (WSNA) programme to all educational settings (renamed Nurture Approach in Education Programme); and
  • The establishment of a dedicated Nurture Advisory & Support Service within the Education Authority to take forward the work and support ongoing delivery.

In March 2022, the Minister for Education announced a further expansion to the nurture programme, proposing the establishment of 16 new Nurture Groups in Primary Schools by the end of 21/22 school year.

Currently, the DE funds 62 Nurture Groups across Northern Ireland.


Queen’s University Belfast  (QUB -2016) carried out research to determine the impact of nurture provision which found clear evidence that nurture group provision in Northern Ireland is highly successful in its primary aim of achieving improvements in the social, emotional and behavioural skills of children. The research identified ten key components in relation to the successful establishment and delivery of Nurture Group provision.

The evaluation of the Nurture Signature Pilot Project (2016) by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETi) also concluded very positive outcomes highlighting that the “progressive learning experiences contribute significantly to the children’s personal, social and emotional development and their overall learning”. 

Both QUB and ETI’s Report and Evaluation have contributed to the formation and Service delivery of the Whole School Nurturing Approaches (WSNA) Model of Support by NASS, which has been renamed the Nurture in Education Programme to support the development of whole School nurturing approaches (WSNA) across ALL education sectors.

The Nurture in Education Programme (NEP)

Social Behaviour and Emotional Wellbeing (SBEW) as an identified special educational need is unique in that at different points in their lives every single member of the school community will experience need in this area. It is therefore incredibly important that a whole school ethos is designed, built and maintained with a commitment to understand and support all our pupils, parents and colleagues in an atmosphere of collective care.

Understanding and supporting SBEW starts from an ongoing and intentional whole school ethos built on healthy relationships and a growing resilience among the school community. This whole school focus should include a reflective approach and a commitment to inspire, support and challenge everyone to be the best they can be.

Strategies and interventions adopted without an ongoing whole school ethos firmly built on Trauma Informed Practice and the principles of nurture will have limited positive impact in the long term. The cornerstone to any approaches to understanding and supporting SBEW is strong positive relationships within the whole school community with a sense of belonging for all.

At the core of SBEW needs is often stress, anxiety, lack of self-worth/low self-esteem and fear of failure. These feelings can be caused by any number of factors including developmental delays, learning difficulties, skills deficit, fractured peer and adult relationships, domestic violence, parent experiencing mental health difficulties, alcohol/drug addictions, and parental separation (see the SEN Resource File – SBEW Chapter).

Nurturing approaches and nurture group support is appropriate for children who are experiencing significant SBEW needs in school arising from those elements listed above and systemic attachment difficulties in early childhood.

The Whole School Nurturing Approaches framework was launched to primary schools in September 2018, and the subsequent Nurture in Education Programme (NEP) to all education sectors in November 2021 through the Children and Young Peoples’ Training Calendar.

The NEP is a progressive, strengths-based model of school capacity building that focuses on developing an awareness of nurturing approaches, leading to more targeted training on attachment, resilience, and nurturing principles and practice. This approach enables schools to establish nurturing approaches to support all children and foster a culture and ethos of wellbeing for all. A ‘whole school’ approach helps develop resilience in pupils and effect the capacity to respond more confidently to the challenges life presents, both now and in the future. The framework can also be utilised by staff to implement more targeted interventions for pupils with a range of development needs, barriers to learning or who may be experiencing attachment difficulties.

Schools make application to participate in the NEP, outlining current early intervention/ preventative strategies or programmes that are already in place in their policies and practices and complete a Readiness for Nurturing Approaches Analysis. This analysis is a self-evaluative tool to measure knowledge, understanding and skills; establishing a baseline that indicates areas for improvement that require attention before fully implementing a whole school nurturing approaches framework.  The readiness analysis also ascertains the preparedness of the school and its school staff to apply nurturing approaches within their school community.

Online Resources / Documents

For further information regarding Nurture approaches, Nurture Groups, and the Nurture in Education Programme please contact:

Sean Irving - Regional Manager

Nurture Advisory & Support Service

028 38 314473 / 028 38 314450

Kelly O’Farrell - Senior Clerical Officer

Nurture Advisory & Support Service

028 38 314473 / 028 38 314450

Alison Dawson – Locality Coordinator (South West)

Nurture Advisory & Support Service

028 38 314473 / 028 38 314450

Elaine Honeyford – Locality Coordinator (North)

Nurture Advisory & Support Service

028 38 314473 / 028 38 314450

Aine-Maire O’Neill – Locality Coordinator (East)

Nurture Advisory & Support Service

028 38 314473 / 028 38 314450

Helen Stewart – Locality Coordinator (East)

Nurture Advisory & Support Service

028 38 314473 / 028 38 314450

Last updated: 11/05/2022