One in four pupils have hidden mental health needs

A new study by Nurtureuk has found that one in three pupils have moderate or severe social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

The study saw primary schools assess the SEMH needs of every pupil in their school.

Conducted across four terms in 25 primary schools in England, teachers in the pilot used the Boxall Profile to assess the SEMH needs of more than 6,800 pupils.

Ten per cent of children assessed had severe SEMH needs. Whilst this is in line with government figures for diagnosable disorders like ADHD and behaviour difficulties, the study also found that a largely hidden 26% of all children were found to have moderate SEMH needs.

The most common difficulty experienced by pupils related to having low self-esteem or a lack of emotional security in school. This could mean pupils distrusting adults or finding it difficult to ask for help when needed. Other common issues related to concentrating in class and having difficulties accommodating to other children and adults through actions like sharing.

As well as uncovering previously unidentified need, the pilot showed how gaining an understanding of the SEMH needs across the whole-school population empowered teachers and schools to do something about it. Teachers who took part in the study reported that not only did their understanding of the children’s underlying needs that caused difficult behaviour improved, but they were able to adapt their practice to better support children’s needs within the class. If support was put in place following assessment, there was a 23% increase in the number of pupils who had no apparent SEMH needs after just five months.

Teachers thought the time taken to assess their pupils was worthwhile with 92% of schools that successfully assessed all their pupils saying they would recommend the approach to other schools.

Identifying children with issues that would not normally be picked up could help schools put in place early interventions and could prevent issues escalating into more complex mental health difficulties. Early support for SEMH in childhood is also key to future adult mental health. In 2015, a report from the Early Intervention Foundation found that social emotional wellbeing in childhood is a key predictor of mental health later in life.

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