The Department for Social Development has proved to be extremely interesting and there is much that it can do to support projects and initiatives that enhance our quality of life in Northern Ireland. This was illustrated by a series of visits that I made last Thursday to Coleraine, Portrush and Lisburn.
The day started in the Ballysally estate in Coleraine, with a visit to Ballysally Primary School. I was welcomed by the principal Geoff Dunne and officials from Coleraine Borough Council and Coleraine Neighbourhood Partnership. After meeting some of the children at their assembly we went on to see the school's nurture unit. Ballysally is one of around ten schools in Northern Ireland with nurture units and DSD supports a number of these. This unit was established in 2004 as an interventionist strategy aimed at targeting social deprivation and was initially supported by Peace 11 funding but has been funded by DSD through Neighbourhood Renewal since 2006.
The programme affords the school the opportunity to engage with pupils, their parents and the community to address various needs such as social interaction and emotional, behavioural and parenting needs.
Additionally, the project seeks to develop a nurturing ethos throughout the school through a number of initiatives, including a breakfast club, and provides parents with opportunities to improve their skills, interaction and communication through initiatives such as parenting workshops.
Prior to the introduction of this programme, the school made 11 referrals per year to the Educational Psychology Service, 9 of which were for behavioural difficulties. In each year since the programme was introduced there have been just 3 referrals each year with only one of these for behavioural difficulties. There has also been a marked improvement in levels of attainment at Key stages 2 and 3 in English, with attainment at Level 2 rising from 65% to 75% and Level 3 rising from 13.04% to 18.75%. This certainly shows the value of investment in early intervention.
Since April 2011 the school has worked in collaboration with Ballysally Presbyterian Church, Sure Start and Focus on Family, a local nurturing and development centre, to deliver a joint nurturing service within the estate.
I was very impressed by the school and the nurture unit. This is certainly an example of DSD money being well spent.