SEMH is an SEND

Pupils with Social Emotional and Mental Health issues need support and differentiation both in the classroom with the work and across the whole school.

What have you got in place?

Some whole school questions and tips –

Do all staff (including support staff, and non-academic staff) know what SEMH is?

Do all staff know what the additional needs of these pupils might look like?

Do staff understand that external behaviour is communication about an unmet need?

Are the needs of these pupils being monitored in the same way as any other SEND? – The recent Ofsted framework puts an emphasis on including our most disadvantaged pupils:

“give all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged and those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) or high needs, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life”1

Read my TES Article: SEMH: How to support pupils with challenging behaviour  – that outlines SEMH pupils’ needs.

Offer ongoing training

A training on behaviour that a teacher received 15years ago one afternoon during a PGCE may not be at the forefront of their mind when Ryan is displaying particularly challenging behaviour – again. Some of your Teaching Assistants and Midday Supervisors may never have received training about these pupils – and they are often ones who cause a lot of worry and stress for your staff.

There are small, daily ways this can fit into already existing meetings and briefings. I offer a 6-part mini-training presentation: How to work with students with challenging behaviour

“What an amazing piece of training! My staff were really responsive and made the whole team reflect on our practice.” – Nikita Boydell – Teacher and trainer.

Or you may need deeper, longer term training with a Behaviour or SEMH specialist – especially for pastoral or TA staff who work regularly with these pupils. Consider becoming an Attachment Aware and/or Trauma Informed school – see below for resources.

Education on Mental Health Awareness – for staff and pupils

The new Health and Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum is compulsory from September 2020 in all schools. Included in the Statutory Guidance is Physical and Mental Health. This is a useful time to review how your school teaches about mental health, supports people with mental health issues, and promotes positive mental health. There are more ideas on how to do this at the PSHE Association and Education Support listed below.

Key Adult

Have one member of staff who an SEMH/vulnerable pupil can check in with each day. They are not their teacher, but someone who can either support them in any ways that they need as well as advocating for the pupil with other staff, for example reminding them that when it’s unplanned group work it might unsettle the pupil and they are unlikely to participate.

I once worked with a pupil who was displaying difficult behaviour in my class. Luckily, someone had already checked in with them previously – it turned out that the night before they had had an argument with their Dad,  and ran away from home. They had not spent the night at home, and home didn’t know where they were. Rather than a severe punishment, we had a safeguarding issue to deal with.

Emotional Literacy and Character Education

Pupils with SEMH often need role modelling and scaffolding for seemingly basic interactions and social situations. They don’t always know how they feel, and what this means – this could be due to trauma, abuse, neglect or other mental health difficulties.

Often these pupils won’t understand their own reactions, let alone be able to control them, regular use of a schoolwide communication methods and education around emotions and feelings will help give these pupils a more constructive way of expressing their needs.

At Three Towers Alternative Provision school they use a set of different coloured chairs for the pupils – they can choose which ones they sit on depending on how they’re feeling, giving a useful non-verbal clue to teaching staff. Other schools use the Just Right system. Frederika Roberts and Elizabeth Wright’s Book Character Toolkit for Teachers is also a recommended read (all listed below). 

Build Relationships

For these vulnerable pupils strong, positive relationships are vital. Some of them may not know how to form them, or what they look like; recognise this with your language, they might not understand what you mean by ‘share’ – this may need to be modelled, repeated and learnt.

These relationships may also take much longer than non-SEMH pupils – if a young child has had their trust broken or basic needs left unmet there is not a model of a positive relationship, it could be difficult for them to recognise and get used to.

School Counsellor

Last year I did an Education Research Trip in Finland (read the 3-part blogs on that here). One of the main pieces of great practice I experienced was the surrounding staff around the pupils; because there was an onsite school counsellor, social worker psychiatrist and specialist SEND teacher it meant the classroom teachers can focus on the teaching.

Budgets are tight. It’s true – but if behaviour and mental health issues are a recurring theme in your school, and they are stopping the learning progress then it is the whole pupil who needs supporting, not just their quote learning and algebra.

I offer training for staff on behaviour in schools.

Take a look at my Behaviour Programmes and services here.

And get in contact with me here.

Resources and Organisations:

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