THE Principal of Sacred Heart Boys Primary School says vital nurture services at the North Belfast school are under threat after they missed out on vital Department of Education funding.

Last week, Education Minister Peter Weir announced up to £4 million investment for 15 new nurture groups in primary schools and a further existing 31 funded nurture groups.

Sacred Heart Boys Primary School on Oldpark Avenue self-funded their own nurture learning and opened a Nurture Room and Sensory Room in 2018.

Despite being in the second most-deprived area in the North, according to the NISRA, Principal Joanne Smyth said as things stand, there will be no nurture services at the school after the end of this year.

She has also written to Department of Education officials asking for an explanation after missing out on vital funding.

“The location of our school highlights its deprivation within the NISRA statistics, and by not being considered for this vital funding the children are being further deprived by the Department for Education,” she explained.

QUESTIONS: Sacred Heart Boys Primary School Principal, Joanne Smyth

QUESTIONS: Sacred Heart Boys Primary School Principal, Joanne Smyth

“I would like to know what the criteria was, which was set by the Department, in order, to determine the schools that received this additional funding and why was Sacred Heart Primary School unable to meet this criteria?

“We have been self-funding our Nurture Room for three years and have been following the close guidance that the current 31 schools, who do receive Nurture Funding, follow.  

“We have attended meetings and operate the Nurture Room on a full time basis completing detailed data on a weekly and daily basis.

“However, unfortunately, next year we are unable to maintain this service due to lack of funding and support from the Department.

“There is money to run it until the end of the year but after that, it is in doubt.”

Joanne also stressed how important nurture is at the school for pupils living in a deprived area.

“Nurture for the children in Sacred Heart, in one of the highest areas of deprivation, has been a great success with children becoming calmer and more confident with a readiness to learn and excel in their learning.  

“However, this resource will now no longer be available to assist our most vulnerable children.

“Early intervention of Nurture Group provision within Primary Schools is highly successful in its primary aim of achieving improvements in the social, emotional and behavioural skills of children, from deprived areas, who are exhibiting significant difficulties. 

“We have children here that need that additional regulation of their emotions, otherwise it is a pure barrier to learning.

“We need to retain this service due to the increasing needs displayed by the children, however we need the funding to continue with our Nurture room which is a vital service and has had a huge impact on our children.

“I am urging the Department of Education to consider funding our Nurture Provision.”   

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The following criteria was used to select the 15 new proposed Nurture Groups, within the available budget and subject to business case approval:
(1)         The school has:
(a)          a high number of pupils with social services involvement (Children Looked After (CLA), child on the Child Protection Register (CPR) or child known to social services); and
(b)          a high number of pupils living in areas of deprivation (as measured by the Extended Schools eligibility criteria);
(2)          There are no school sustainability issues;
(3)          The latest P1 and P2 enrollment number is at least 20 for each year group;

(4)          There is physical space within the school to facilitate a nurture room, with any minor works not expected to exceed £10-£15k; and
(5)          The school’s Board of Governors and Senior Management Team are supportive of nurturing principles and whole school nurture practice.
All primary schools, including Sacred Heart PS, were given due consideration within the budget available.”