In September 2019, Scoil Mhuire spearheaded an application to the Department of Education’s School Excellence Fund (SEF), in collaboration with its local early years’ providers, FAB Huggie Bears and Clonard Holy Family Preschool. The SEF initiative, encourages innovation and excellence in education by supporting schools, at all levels, to work together to identify innovative solutions to issues which are context specific and are aimed at tackling educational disadvantage and improving learning outcomes for children. For our local primary school/pre-school team, we proposed looking at Understanding and Supporting Children’s Social and Emotional Wellbeing to Improve Learning Outcomes.

Prior to making our joint application, we had identified several factors which were having a negative impact on the children attending our services. These challenges included anxiety, child non-availability for learning, poor attendance and sometimes challenging behaviour. We knew that these factors were directly affecting our children’s academic progress and we hoped that by addressing their social and emotional wellbeing, we could improve their learning outcomes too.

In December 2019 we were delighted to received confirmation that our joint project was one of ten projects approved nationally and our SEF endeavour began in earnest, despite the challenges that Covid-19 brought our way.

Here is an overview of some of our main actions:

Our staffs took part in a series of professional development sessions on Nurture, with Yvonne Monaghan of Nurture International. We were trained in the Principles of Nurture, how to use the Boxall Profile and the Developmental Portrait to assess children’s social and emotional development, and how to implement the Nurture strategies needed to address our children’s needs at individual and whole-class level. These activities have now become an everyday part of our Nurture work, resulting in consistently positive outcomes for the children in our settings.

Yvonne Monaghan of Nurture International also facilitated a number of interesting and thought provoking Nurture Workshops for our parents and carers. Here our parents had the opportunity to come together and to learn from Yvonne and from one another.

Our staffs received specific training in wellbeing and mindfulness too. In Scoil Mhuire, we have introduced a Mindfulness Curriculum in all classes from Junior Infants to 1st Class. The pupils in these classes access a weekly mindfulness session, facilitated by a trained Scoil Mhuire staff member. Our future goal is to extend this intervention to other classes in our school as we can already see the positive impact it is having for our pupils and in our classrooms.

The SEF project also provided funding for the creation of sensory paths and areas throughout our school so that pupils can access regular sensory and movement breaks. We also added lots of positive affirmation messages to our school environment.

On 29th May 2023, we will present our project at a Department of Education hosted Shared Learning Day in Athlone. While this day marks an official end to our project, we are planning to continue our collaborative work for the foreseeable future having seen the benefits that it brings to meeting the needs of our children and their families.

We’ve also some very exciting cross-setting literacy and numeracy initiatives in the offing that had to be postponed due to Covid-19, so watch this space for exciting further developments!