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Social Emotional Mental Health

Social emotional mental health

Whole school approaches and strategies

The successful inclusion of children and young people with a SEMH is largely determined by a school’s whole school approach to meeting these needs and reducing barriers to learning, 

  • Use of whole school approaches to promote wellbeing and resilience of learner makes a significant difference.
  • A behaviour policy underpinned by a clear inclusive ethos and values is essential, supplemented by effective classroom practice.
  • Settings should assess SEMH needs to help staff understand the barriers to learning that learners face.
  • Learning needs should also be reviewed using school’s own screening or assessment tools or external advice to ensure that any SEMH needs or behavioural difficulties are not caused by
    an unmet learning need or communication difficulty.
  • The use of restorative approaches to build, maintain and repair relationships is required with
    a focus on anti-bullying work.
  • The identification of a key adult to build positive and trusting relationships with pupils with a SEMH difficulty is invaluable.
  • The resilience of the staff is also important, and support needs to be available for staff working with pupils with SEMH through group or individual supervision or opportunities to debrief at the end of the day and particularly after a significant incident.
  • Emphasis on choice rather than control should underpin a behaviour policy with firm but flexible boundaries which provide certainty and consistency. 
  • Use curriculum time such as PSHE and Circle time to explicitly teaching de-escalation and self-management strategies. Building resilience is important for all learners but particularly those with a SEMH difficulty. 
  • Staff training is crucial. Particularly developing attachment aware strategies.


Reasonable adjustments and quality first teaching strategies

Identified barrier and


Provision and strategies: approaches, adjustments and specific

interventions expected to be made by settings according to the ages and stages of the learners

Environment: school and classroom

Pupils with SEMH need a learning environment which provides a safe space to learn 

  • Classroom well organised and labelled (with picture symbols). 
  • Keep learning spaces as clear from clutter as possible and consider if there is too much sensory stimulus or not enough.
  • Where possible, create a quiet area both for working and as a ‘quiet time’ zone. 
  • Ensure that tools and equipment are easily accessible and available for use.
  • Allow pupils to have a safe place to store belongings and ‘listening’ (fiddle) toys. 
  • Provide alternative seating at carpet time, if this is a challenge. 
  • Play calming music where appropriate. 
  • A safe space is important to have in the school, and in the classroom. A popup tent with a security blanket can work well.
  • Are learners with SEMH needs seated in a way that meets their needs eg, away from windows, near a clear exit, etc. It is important this is discussed with the learner.

Knowing the learner and having a positive relationship

Pupils with SEMH difficulties often do not have a strong sense of being belonging and may feel that they are unlovable. 

  • Take time to find learner’s strengths and praise these – ensure that the learner has opportunities to demonstrate their skills to maintain self-confidence. ‘Catch’ the learner being good and emphasise positives in front of other learners and staff (where appropriate). 
  • Give the learner a classroom responsibility to raise self-esteem. 
  • Use learner’s name and ensure you have their attention before giving instructions. 
  • Make use of different seating and grouping arrangements for different activities.
  • Personalise teaching where possible to reflect learner’s interests. 
  • Have a range of simple, accessible activities that the learner enjoys to use as ‘calming’ exercises. 
  • Legitimise movement by getting learner to take a message, collect an item, use a ‘listening toy’ if necessary.
  • Listen to the learner, giving them an opportunity to explain their behaviours.
  • Use restorative justice.
  • Refer learners regularly to the classroom code of conduct, whole class targets and use consistently – ensuring that supply staff apply same consistency. 
  • Look at patterns and triggers to identify what may be causing the behaviours for example, an antecedents, behaviour and consequences (ABC chart).
  • Offer choices – both of which must be acceptable.
  • Liaison and collaboration with home is essential to understand the wider picture.
  • Ensure that information is gathered from a range of agencies.
  • Create a risk assessment which identifies triggers as well as preventative and de-escalation strategies. Use this as a part of a behaviour support plan or pastoral support plan.
  • Ensure that all information is shared with current school staff as well as for staff who don’t know the pupil - new class or new school.
  • Consider a buddy or peer mentoring.
  • Distraction techniques work well – find out what the learner is interested in so that this is possible.
  • Are there underlying, as yet undiagnosed SEND such as a speech and language difficulty?


Pupils with SEMH difficulties benefit from staff who maintain calm and positive no matter how challenging the behaviour. This ensures that they feel safe and also a sense of belonging

  • Communicate in a calm, clear manner. Think about what you say,
    how you say it as well as how your body language may be perceived. 
  • Never use language which humiliates or embarrasses a pupil.
    Avoid using ‘blame’ or trying to make a learner feel guilty about
    their behaviour. 
  • Keep your language positive, particularly in the first 10 minutes.
    Focus on engaging the learner rather than any low-level behaviour.
  • Make expectations for behaviour explicit by giving clear targets, explanations and modelling. 
  • Keep instructions, routines and rules short, precise and positive 
  • Praise is specific and named. 
  • Use a visual timer to measure and extend time on task – start small and praise, praise, praise. 
  • Teach learner how to use post-it notes for questions and ideas rather than interruptions (when appropriate). 
  • Positive reinforcement of expectations through verbal scripts and visual prompts. 


  • Communicate positive achievements – no matter how small – with home and encourage home to do the same. Could be in the form of a ‘Golden moments’ or ‘Good News’ book or ‘Good notes’ to be collected in a small plastic wallet. 
  • Give a set time for written work and do not extend into playtime to ‘catch up’ – the learner will need these breaks.
  • Humour is often a great way to de-escalate a situation but ensure that this is never sarcasm.
  • Avoid reprimanding a learner in front of the class or in public.
  • Be mindful of not talking too much. When a learner is in a heightened state, their ability to listen is diminished.
  • Never threaten a consequence which is impossible to enforce.

Accessing the curriculum: teaching and Learning 

Pupils with SEMH often feel incapable, with low self-esteem. They do not always have the resilience to try something new and often do not persevere if something is perceived as being too difficult

  • Create a climate within the classroom where making mistakes is positive and okay.
  • Clear lesson structure with learning objectives presented orally and visually. 
  • Identify and build on a range of learning styles.
  • Provide lots of opportunities for kinaesthetic learning eg, practical activities, experiential learning, multi-sensory resources. 
  • Chunk instructions and support with visual cues. 
  • Use interactive strategies eg, learners have cards or whiteboards to hold up answers, come to the front to take a role, etc.
  • Activities and listening broken up with breaks for more kinaesthetic activities. 
  • Ensure groupings provide positive role models. 
  • Provide visual timetables and task lists – may need to be for a short period of time depending on the learner. 
  • Provide visual cues to support expectations.
  • Give breaks between tasks and give legitimate ‘moving around’ activities eg, Brain Gym, Wake Up and Shake Up, MIND Up.
  • Transition from whole class work to independent or group work is taught, clearly signalled and actively managed.
  • Training - ensure that you have all the knowledge you need to meet the needs within your classroom.


Resources: including the use of support staff

  • Ensure that your classroom assistants are planned for and used to maximise learning.
  • Focus on encouraging independent learning if possible or at least always be working towards this.
  • Consider using baseline assessments which will baseline social and emotional development such as the Boxall profile.
  • For children with ADHD consider the use of resources such as a ‘listening toy’ or a sensory wobble cushion
  • Resources to support friendships and social communication such as a ‘Circle of Friends’.