Putting Social, Emotional and Mental Health at the top of our schools’ agenda

At Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), where I'm Executive Director for SEND and Inclusion, we’ve been thinking about Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs (SEMH) in our schools for some time.

We have put the whole subject at the top of our agenda, so I began this year with a tweet: ‘It’s a new year and it’s started with a review of our strategy for children with social, emotional and mental health needs’; to which Tania replied  ‘fancy blogging about it? So here goes…

Putting Social, Emotional and Mental Health at the top of our schools' agenda

Starting the year right

SEMH remains a key area for all schools and I am pleased that it is now firmly in the spotlight. SEMH is now being discussed more widely in schools, with openness and importantly with less stigma attached.

This is only right in light of the fact that three quarters of mental health problems start before the early 20’s and referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are most common in the age range 11-15 where there were over 90,000 referrals in 2015.

Of the four broad areas of SEN in the Code of Practice, the area of Social, Emotional and Mental Health is particularly challenging. It’s the only area that doesn’t break down into clear ‘primary categories of SEN need’.

The social and emotional category is a diverse and complex area. In addition to those pupils who have already been identified as having SEMH needs, there will be other children at any school who have mental health needs but don’t appear on the SEN support list.

This means it can be unhelpful and misleading if we speak about these children with SEMH in a language that generalises their needs.

The key difference between SEMH pupils and other pupils is that they can lack the abilities or skills to behave cooperatively or in a courteous and acceptable manner. This behaviour is a ‘can’t’ even though it is often inaccurately described as a ‘won’t’.

What we’ve done so far…

Within our schools, we are working on the following:

  • We’ve raised the profile of Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs by discussing it with our schools and holding a two-day conference focused on the subject
  • SEMH is a priority area and as a result we are prioritising the development of mental health for our pupils and staff
  • We’ve appointed a specialist to support us. Ammar Al-Ghabban is our SEMH Consultant who works closely with our schools and offers practical advice and support (thanks Ammar for helping me with this blog)
  • We took part in a Department for Education (DfE) pilot last year. This involved nominating a mental health lead in one of our academies to work with a nominated NHS specialist mental health worker for a year. The benefits were clear for all to see
  • We’re running projects on identifying anxiety needs in students and as a result are responding effectively through personalised plans
  • Strategies for reducing physical interventions are being actively promoted. Our specialist SEMH settings are leading the way here and we have seen a significant impact
  • Restorative justice strategies are promoted in our schools.

What we’re talking about in our strategy review…

  • Ensuring a member of staff is appointed in every school to lead on mental health for all pupils, including those with SEND
  • The launch of a mental health review tool which will help us gauge how effective our support is and enable us to share good practice
  • Reviewing what we mean by ‘inclusion’ and what so-called ‘inclusion units’ actually do and achieve in practice
  • Working towards greater community cohesion and connectedness by ensuring all pupils feel safe and connected through calm environments and positive relationships
  • Maintaining an effective Trust wide approach to promoting diversity and tackling prejudice
  • Making sure that we talk to our pupils and their families and listen to them – this may seem simplistic but it’s vital

Send us your ideas

We know Rome wasn’t built in a day and we have a long way to go, but by raising the subject of Social, Emotional and Mental Health to the top of our agenda, we hope to make a fundamental difference and support our children and their families more effectively.

We would love to hear from readers with their SEMH experiences, ideas and strategies by emailing [email protected].

Malcolm Reeve

Malcolm Reeve

Director of SEND & Inclusion at Academies & Enterprise Trust
Malcolm is Executive Director for SEND & Inclusion at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) - the UK’s largest academy chain. He has worked in the field of SEND for 30 years and in that time has worked in adult provision, mainstream schools and special schools. He has worked in with children throughout the age range and with learning difficulties ranging from moderate to profound.
Malcolm has been a Headteacher of three schools and one federation. He is a National Leader of Education, a Member of the National SEND Forum and Patron of the Centre Algarve holiday centre for people with special needs.
Malcolm has been a Headteacher of three schools and one federation. He is a National Leader of Education, Chair of the Federation of Leaders in Special Education and a Member of the National SEND Forum.
Malcolm Reeve