Rohl Popat reflects on the values and practical approaches of this school and how the Mentally Healthy Schools resource hub has supported their effects to better understand and nurture their pupils.
Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) is a term that describes a range of difficulties. You’re most likely to hear it when discussing a young person’s ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ behaviour. But that behaviour is just the symptom – SEBD students actually have a huge variety of needs and are facing a wide range of issues, and a vital part of my job is working to understand what’s really going on with a student.
It’s easy to apply a label like behavioural difficulties, but once you scratch beneath the surface, you often see that there are so many things that could be causing the behaviour. It could be something in their environment or things going on at home. As we build a relationship with the student we can understand them better, help them manage their emotions and behaviour, and become more self-aware and self-reflective.
A student might also have issues such as ADHD, autism, sensory, medical or cognitive difficulties. Such issues can be the catalyst that makes the student display SEBD. We have to strip back the behaviour and look at the layers, and see what is causing them to behave that way. Sometimes it’s a cry for help, and the behaviour is just the tip of the iceberg.
A student with SEBD may also have social anxiety or emotional regulation problems. A lot of our pupils struggle to form friendships and relationships. They may have an idea of how to interact with people, but those skills are not honed or developed.
We often find that we have to help them regulate their emotions. They might get things out of proportion, or they might be non- verbal or unable to communicate for a host of reasons. If they fall into that bracket, we try to manage the situation using the tools that we have at our disposal. We look at exactly what their needs and difficulties are, and how we can best help that specific child. We’ve found the Mentally Healthy Schools mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk really useful for this purpose – resources like the anxiety thermometer or tools for managing emotions can help students understand what they’re feeling and regain control.
Our children all have Education and Healthcare Plans, and they have plans for social and emotional aspects as well. We have a nurture class and a nurture teacher, where they can develop basic life skills. We teach them that it is alright to experience strong emotions, and get them thinking about questions like: What does angry look like? How do I form friendships? How do I conduct myself? If I am feeling a certain way, is that OK? Learning about this in nurture class helps normalise their emotions and feelings.
We realise that they can’t all sustain five days a week in school, even with a reduced timetable – so we offer a blended approach. The students can do a couple of days a week in school, and on other days they can go offsite and develop other interests. Off Site provision includes a variety of activities like car mechanics, health and beauty, construction, bricklaying or woodwork. We have a field with horses, and the young people can even get a qualification in horse care. We’re aware that their experience before coming to our school probably hasn’t been the best, and we want to ensure they enjoy their education.
The staff at the school work very much as a team: the teachers, support staff, office staff and kitchen staff all support each other. We have a morning briefing every day where we share key information, and we have regular progress meetings where we share best practice and any concerns we might have. Every child has a passport of information so we all know what works for them; what they enjoy, what triggers them. The Mentally Healthy Schools website has an entire section dedicated to implementing a whole-school approach like ours, which has lots of useful advice for schools to follow.
Another source of support that has been pivotal has been our involvement in the piloting of the Anna Freud Centre’s Schools Support Service annafreud.org. It has allowed us to offer teacher wellbeing sessions, and support for the young people. It has given our parents and carers the opportunity to speak to a trained professional and get together with other parents in a group once a week for an hour. It has brought together parents who don’t usually get to speak to each other. We also get support from CAMHS, the local SEND service with an autism unit, and the police, who are very much on board. It would be great to see the Anna Freud Schools Support Service, and similar initiatives, more widely available to other schools in the future.
Building nurturing, understanding relationships with the young people in our school helps us to better understand their behaviour. If we can take the time to listen and understand what it is like for a young person with SEBD, it means we can see past the initial behaviour and work to best support them.
About the author
Rahi Popat is a Pastoral Support Officer and Designated Safeguarding Lead at Keyham Lodge School in Leicester for SEN young people.
Rahi works as part of an integrated response team. Before joining his current school, Rahi worked with SEBD children in mainstream secondary and primary schools.
To learn more about working with children displaying challenging behaviour, all schools can visit the Anna Freud Centre’s Mentally Healthy Schools website annafreud.org.
There is lots of information about challenging behaviour written for schools, and many resources suitable for all ages in the resource library.