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Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties

Within the code of practice, social, emotional and mental health is defined as follows:

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‘Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivedisorder or attachment disorder.’

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‘Schools and colleges should have clear processes to support children and young people, including how they will manage the effect of any disruptive behaviour so it does not adversely affect other pupils.’

Image shows three primary aged schoolchildren building a Lego tower

The SEN Code of Practice (2015) no longer includes ‘behaviour’ as part of this category of need. The reasoning is that a child’s behaviour is perceived as a communication about the child’s state of mind and may be caused by a variety of factors such as:

  • anxiety
  • sensory overload
  • anger, including anger about pervasive life situations or undisclosed difficulties
  • response to trauma or attachment difficulties
  • frustration due to speech and communication difficulties
  • response to the wrong level of challenge in lessons
  • grief
  • overwhelm
  • physical pain or discomfort, such as hunger
  • underlying mental health problems
  • undisclosed physical, mental or sexual abuse

This list is illustrative, not exhaustive.


‘Inclusive education and high-quality teaching for all children in the classroom’

The Department for Education publishes evidence-based guidance on managing pupils’ mental health and behaviour difficulties in schools. There is a useful section on factors that promote resilience and factors that increase risk.

This link includes documents with advice on face-to-face and cyber bullying. The documents contain helpful links to a wide range of different organisations and resources.

MindEd offers a wide range of free video materials for the education workforce covering many topics on Mental Health in respect of young people.

Department of education building

Department for Education


‘Specific, extra, time-limited support in-school for children with additional needs’

This toolkit provides school case studies of good practice to support wellbeing. It also has a useful table of wellbeing tools suitable for schools to assess young people, broken down into year groups, wellbeing criteria measured and cost.


Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families Logo [white background with white text that reads 'Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families' with an image of green interlinking rings on the left hand side]

Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families


‘Services offered by external professionals such as occupational therapists, speech and language therapists or health professionals on or off the school site.’

Social Care: The 'What does good look like' guide is a resource for observing in services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism and consists of a booklet and checklist designed for inspectors (e.g. CQC), experts by experience, researchers and other professionals who might need to observe a service for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

The resource outlines what good practice looks like and provides a set of observable practices that can indicate that a service is implementing person centred approaches such as Person Centred Active Support, The National Autistic Society’s SPELL Framework, Total or Alternative and Augmentative Communication, and Positive Behaviour Support.

Teacher and children have fun learning with a tablet computer in the day care centre

Social Care: The 'What does good look like'