One Out of Four Primary Pupils in UK Has 'Hidden' Social and Mental Health Difficulties? |

One Out of Four Primary Pupils in UK Has ‘Hidden’ Social and Mental Health Difficulties?

William Kellogg
May 28, 2019
primary school

A recently conducted study shows that a quarter of primary pupils have hidden social, emotional, and mental health difficulties.

It can be quite challenging to spot pupils who behave well but are lacking in self-esteem or confidence, research shows. This mental issues could be low self-esteem, and a lack of emotional security in the school, as well as a mistrust of adults.

The head of research for the charity Nurture the UK, Florence Ruby, conducted the study. She said: “In one classroom, there are perhaps three or four quite challenging pupils. Teachers notice them.

“Some certain things, for example, lower self-esteem or difficulties interacting with other pupils, are not so easily noticed. Those pupils with these difficulties who are quiet and spend their time learning are not so easily noticed.”

This study, conducted over four terms in 25 primary schools in England, involved teachers assessing the social, emotional, and mental health needs of more than 6,800 pupils.

The teachers involved in this study used the Boxall Profile, an assessment tool designed by educational psychologists to identify children’s social, emotional, and behavioral needs.

The profile is usually used to help diagnose high-needs pupils though Dr. Ruby asked teachers to use the pattern on all pupils in their class. It was revealed that a total of one in three pupils had “moderate or severe” social, emotional or mental-health (SEMH) needs.

They included 26 percent of children who were found to have primarily hidden moderate SEMH needs.

 The usual difficulty experienced by these pupils was low self-esteem or a lack of emotional security in the school. It manifests itself as mistrust of adults or trouble asking for help when needed.

Dr. Ruby said that schools had previously assumed that roughly one in 10 of their pupils had SEMH needs.

“Schools were quite surprised by the results,” she said. “I don’t think it’s enough to say, ‘We’re in quite a good area. Our Sat’s results are quite good.’

“No school and no teacher knows the “SEMH” needs of their children without assessing them. It’s not an easy thing to spot, these subtle social and emotional difficulties.”

She further added that it was necessary for pupils to be given the right support for their needs. “There’s a lot of pressure around children at the moment – results, the pressure to do well at school, and not necessarily the right kind of support at home,” she said.

“Schools are well-placed to provide that support,” Dr. Ruby said.

“I know that teachers and teaching assistants are stretched, in terms of capacity and responsibility. But being able to know: OK, these are the needs of the children in my class – teachers will find it helpful.”

Jill Weatherston, nurture lead at Marsh Green Primary, in Wigan, who was among the teachers taking part in the study, agreed. “It highlighted children who we would never have done any work with otherwise because they present as happy, calm and quiet,” she said of the research.

“However, when we started assessing them, they were flagged as having issues like an underdeveloped sense of self.

“If pupils don’t feel happy and safe within a school, they won’t learn anyway. So you can all carry on teaching to your heart’s content, but they won’t take it in if they don’t feel happy and secure, and their basic needs aren’t being met.”

The chief executive of Nurture UK, Kevin Kibble, said: “We must help teachers identify and support children with SEMH needs, before issues escalate, harming their education and potentially leading to exclusion.”

William Kellogg

William Kellogg is a veteran writer who's covered the subject of the intersection of technology, health and mental wellness for nearly two decades.

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