films that make a difference
The idea of making a film on Nurture first came about while we were filming a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary called Britain’s Challenging Children. That film was based on a major survey of teachers who said that behaviour in primary schools was deteriorating and affecting their ability to teach. It followed the efforts of a small number of schools who were succeeding in tackling the problem head on. We approached 1000s of schools across the country to gain access for the programme with little or no success.
For any school the idea of having a camera crew inside its classrooms everyday for an extended period of time must be pretty scary. As a Head Teacher you’d have to be pretty confident in your staff and the work they are doing. You’d also be concerned that the children in your care were not going to be exploited in any way.
We’d come across the research that Glasgow City Council had done on the effectiveness of Nurture groups so we were very keen to feature Nurture in the Dispatches film. Fortunately they are very proud of what’s being achieved with Nurture Groups in Glasgow so getting access to the schools was a bit easier. To put it in perspective, the Glasgow schools (Wellshot, Royston and St Clares) featured in the Nurture Room are three of only five schools in the whole of the UK that let us in. Which is testament, I think, to the amazing success that these schools are having. They recognized that what they are trying to do needs the exposure a project like this can generate to ensure that it can grow and be understood in much wider circles. Hopefully we have been able to justify their decision to be a part of the film and present their stories and success in an honest and dignified way. Certainly the dedication, commitment and love these women show everyday towards the pupils in their class is there for everyone to see.
For the Dispatches, we filmed constantly for two whole terms in order that we might be able to show some progression in the children we were following. But very quickly, it became apparent that a 45 minute current affairs film wasn’t going to do justice to what we were seeing with the children in the Nurture Groups. So we just kept on filming. And what we were able to capture over the course of the year is nothing short of a miracle. To witness first hand the incredible journey that these kids have been on was a privilege that will stay with me forever.
One of the biggest challenges of filming in a school is the interest a film camera generates amongst the pupils. I lost track of the number of really great shots we had to scrap because of some kid pulling a face in the corner of frame. There was a real and notable difference when filming in the Nurture Rooms however. The children seemed much less inhibited and self-conscious. You could almost see their guards come down as soon as they walked through the door. They knew what to expect in the Nurture Room, they knew that nothing bad was going to happen in there and they felt safe. They trusted us because they trusted the other adults in the room. We found that we could get very close to the children without them really noticing or being affected. The result is the very natural footage that makes up the bulk of the film.
All three of the schools we feature in the film are set in areas of Glasgow that are amongst the most deprived in the whole of Europe. High-rise flats and poor social housing are the backdrop to a large part of this film so it’s no surprise that the children arrive at school ill prepared and struggle immediately.
Filming with children anywhere, and especially kids who are going through stressful situations and acting out, poses certain ethical questions. As a film-maker, it’s what keeps you up late at night worrying that the children you are filming are going to be ashamed or regret being a part of what you are trying to achieve. Their informed consent is vital and so a great deal of time was spent with the children and their families explaining who we were and what we were doing. Out of over 600 release forms that we sent out to every child in each of the three schools only a handful came back saying they couldn’t or didn’t want to be featured. Again, I think testament to the trust and good relationships the schools have been able to build with the children and parents.
It was always in the deal that the schools would get to see the film before it got a release. These women are fiercely protective of the children in their care, and would not be afraid to tell us, in no uncertain terms, if they weren’t happy. So it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I walked through the school gates with a copy of the finished film to show them. Fortunately they really love the film and what they saw that day is the film you see today. We haven’t changed anything.
We want everyone involved in the making of this film to be proud of it and it was important that the schools and the kids have a sense of ownership of the film. As part of that process, we held special art workshops where the kids could talk about their experiences in the Nurture Room or in other aspects of the school. They were then encouraged to come up with drawings and pictures that represented those experiences. These pictures became the inspiration for the animation elements in the film.
Fundamental to the film’s success was being able to hear the children’s voices throughout. From very early on however, it became clear that we weren’t going to get those voices through conventional interviewing techniques. It’s very difficult to interview someone who can’t make eye contact or won’t sit still for more than 20 seconds. One of the phrases that you often hear or read about in Nurture Group theory is that ‘all behaviour is communication’. So we set out to capture that communication when the kids were playing in the sand pit or house corner, having breakfast or putting their feelings on the feelings tree. And certainly these were the moments when you got the biggest insight into what was going on inside their heads.
As the year went on and the Nurture Rooms began to work their magic it was really rewarding to be able to start to have conversations with the kids and eventually be able to get some of what they were saying on camera. Knowing the difficulty they had had in expressing themselves through words made the moment that those words finally did come all the more special. You just got the sense that these children might actually have a chance now.
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