Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) is one of four broad areas of Special Educational Need (SEN) in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Code of Practice (DfE and DoH, 2015). This comparative case study explored practitioners’ perspectives of effective support for pupils in mainstream secondary schools with SEMH needs at SEN Support. The SEND Code of Practice states that schools must ‘use their best endeavours to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need – this means doing everything they can to meet children and young people’s SEN’ (DfE and DoH, 2015 p.92). It also states that schools should provide support ‘using well-evidenced interventions’ (DfE and DoH, 2015 p.97) targeted at pupil’s areas of additional need.
Thirteen teachers from three mixed comprehensive secondary schools in a city in the South East of England participated in semi-structured interviews for this study over a period of 3 months in 2019. The majority of participants had roles in senior leadership, and all had significant experience of working with pupils with SEN. In all three schools the headteacher, special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) and the senior leader responsible for behaviour participated. Identification of pupils and effective support for those identified are discussed alongside barriers for schools in meeting need. Implications of the study are considered.
This study reveals that SEMH as an area of SEN is problematic for school leaders. Budget pressures and accountability measures for schools are impacting on the curriculum and availability of support for pupils with SEMH needs. School leaders may need to be incentivised to develop work in this area due to the tensions with current policy and accountability measures linked to attainment. Pupils are not being identified consistently, this is a concern as Department for Education (DfE) behaviour guidance (DfE, 2016), is based on a behaviourist approach that is not appropriate for some pupils, notably those with SEMH needs. Without identification at SEN Support these pupils may be more at risk of exclusion. Current DfE guidance (DfE and DoH, 2015; DfE, 2016; DfE, 2018b) needs to be reviewed to ensure pupils with SEMH needs are correctly identified and supported. Practitioners in the study articulated a range of effective support for pupils with SEMH needs supported by academic literature but lacked knowledge of targeted interventions and the theoretical underpinnings for this work. There is a need to make information about evidence-based programmes more accessible for practitioners.
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