nasen – the National Association for Special Educational Needs (SEND) – the leading charity that exists to support and champion those working with, and for, children and young people with SEND and learning differences, is marking World Mental Health Day (tomorrow, Tuesday 10 October) with an important message for the entire education community.
For nasen believes that – just like access to education – good social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) is an important right of every child and young person in our schools and colleges, as well as every member of the education workforce, whatever their role.
Over its 30-year history, the organisation has led the way in supporting high-quality inclusive practice, using evidence-led approaches to guide the sector towards delivery of an educational experience that is equitable for all children and young people within it. And its work around SEMH is an important element of this ambition – not only as an issue in its own right, but also because learners with SEND and / or learning differences may be more likely to experience anxiety around having to ‘fit into’ an education system that is poorly designed to meet specific conditions or additional needs.
Right now, we are facing a mental health crisis. A 2021 report from NHS stated that mental health had declined in almost 40% of school-aged children, and for over half of 17-23 year olds over the preceding 5 years.
A further study commissioned by national mental health charity, Mind, revealed that of 500 young people who took part, nearly 1 in 5 had felt excluded at some point because their issues weren’t understood correctly. It also revealed that school or college was the place they felt most comfortable in going for help.
Chief Executive of nasen, Annamarie Hassall, MBE, said: “Every good teacher strives to deliver the best preparation for adulthood for the learners in their setting. This principle, starting in the early years, goes far beyond traditional progress and attainment, routinely measured as academic skills or qualifications. In fact, I would argue that some of the most important skills that a teacher can help a young person to hone are around emotional wellbeing, developing healthy relationships, a sense of belonging, building resilience and the ability to overcome challenges that life will undoubtedly present from time to time.
“There’s a risk that the world events of 2020 and 2021 are regarded as past-time as we strive to move forwards. However, those NHS figures along with anecdotal evidence from the education community tell us that more and more children are finding difficulty in developing good emotional wellbeing. And official statistics continue to back this year on year. In fact, the latest SEN England figures show that almost a quarter of all secondary school pupils with SEN are identified as having SEMH needs as their primary need – an increase from 21.5% in 2021.
“On World Mental Health Day, I’m urging all our members to take time to discover the wealth of resources available at www.nasen.org.uk. At the most comprehensive level, our education team deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid training, which can be commissioned for whole school settings or groups of schools. There are also many other resources – the majority of which are free to access. I hope that by exploring the themes they contain, you might develop your understanding of how to make significant positive impact for learners with SEMH needs in your setting.
“And it’s not just children and young people who stand to benefit from nasen’s programme of continuing professional development. We’re proud to be a champion, friend, and protector of the education workforce. We recognise that the challenges faced by our community are many and varied and I would encourage you all to talk about your own wellbeing. Opening the conversation with colleagues in schools, colleges and settings as you do for children and young people. To support you in this, next month, we are hosting a webinar exploring the balance between the role of the SENCO and personal wellbeing – a great opportunity for some self-reflection and a commitment to your own mental wellbeing.
“Closer to home, I will be encouraging conversations between colleagues as part of our ongoing Mental Health at Work commitment – a set of actions that any organisation can follow to improve and support the mental health of their people, and something I see as integral to our nasen values.”
Among the nasen resources currently available to support good SEMH are a suite of online units, developed as part of the Universal Services programme, which is funded by the Department for Education. Each unit takes just 20 minutes to complete, and learnings taken from them can be further contextualised through a schedule of online Specialist Spotlights covering:
- Creating an emotionally safe environment
- Creating a socially safe environment
- Understanding behaviour as communication
- Promoting mental wellbeing in your setting
- Understanding and promoting resilience
- Understanding anxiety and creating a supportive learning environment
To access the resources mentioned here, and to explore the full range of CPD available, visit www.nasen.org.uk/mental-health-and-wellbeing
 Mental Health of Children and Young People in England. (2021). NHS Digital.
 Supporting Young people – with a focus on trauma. (2021). Mind.