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The SEN Code of Practice 2014 states:

“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  These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour.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, 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 hyperactivity disorder or attachment disorder”.

(Section 6.32, p87)

Social, emotional and mental health needs in children and young people can be complex as they are often the result of an interaction between individuals, the environment and the child/young person’s own genetics.  This can lead to unwanted or difficult to understand behaviours which cause concern in schools. 

It is important that any behaviour causing concern is understood as an indication of an underlying unmet social, emotional or mental health need and addressed accordingly.  Challenging behaviour may also be caused by underlying language, communication or learning needs.  In these cases, please refer to the Learning and Cognition and Communication and Interaction sections for more information.

Examples of displayed behaviour resulting from unmet SEMH needs include: 

  • signs of emotional distress
  • displaying behaviour that has disruptive effects
  • ongoing friendship issues
  • conflict with peers and adults
  • reports of bullying,
  • withdrawal behaviour
  • any significant changes in behaviour
  • physical symptoms
  • anxiety. 

All challenging behaviour does not necessarily mean that the child or young person has SEN.  The Code states:

“Persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviour does not necessarily mean the child or young person has SEN.  Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, difficulties with communication or mental health issues.  If it is thought housing, family or domestic circumstances may be contributing ti the presenting behaviour a multi-agency approach, supported by the use of approaches such as the Early Help Assessment may be appropriate.  In all cases, early identification and intervention can significantly reduce the use of more costly intervention at a later stage.”

(Section 6.21, p85)

The section is split into 4 different areas:

  • Whole school responsibilities (including a whole school audit and action planning tool)
  • Quality First Teaching (including a teacher self-audit tool)
  • SEN support in school (including links to possible assessments and interventions)
  • Using specialist support services.


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