SENCO Week looks at behavioral, emotional and social development (BESD)

Continuing with our review of the categories of need identified in the Code of Practice, we look this week at behavioral, emotional and social development (BESD). For many teachers, this is the area of most concern; how can they meet children’s needs in a way that avoids disruption and interference with the learning of others? As SENCO, you may find yourself being asked to deal with ‘situations’ on a regular basis, so anything you can do to help colleagues develop good practice in this field will be of all-round benefit.

SENCO Support

The BESD category of the CoP group includes children and young people ‘who demonstrate features of emotional and behavioral difficulties, who are withdrawn and isolated, disruptive and disturbing, hyperactive and lack concentration; those with immature social skills; and those presenting challenging behaviors arising from other complex needs.’ Children of all abilities can have BESD needs and their difficulties can range from mild to severe. At the milder end of the spectrum, an individual may find it difficult to work in groups because of social interaction problems, and find the unstructured times of break and dinnertime particularly challenging. Other pupils can be isolated and withdrawn, often underachieving and finding it hard to communicate. At the more severe end of the spectrum will be those who are physically and verbally aggressive and find it impossible to work collaboratively. Their concentration is poor; they have low self-esteem and find it difficult to accept praise.

A child or teenager is likely to be identified as having BES difficulties if his or her behavior:

  • is not age-appropriate
  • results in isolation from peers
  • negatively affects the classroom/learning environment
  • places unreasonable demands on teaching staff
  • leads to negative self-concept and low self-esteem
  • restricts learning opportunities (both for the child concerned, and others in the class/school)
  • creates dangerous situations.

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also included in this group. These pupils have three main kinds of problem: overactive behavior, impulsive behavior and difficulty in paying attention. They often find it difficult to fit in at school and make friends, and while some symptoms, such as attention difficulties, may improve as the child gets older, behavioral problems such as disobedience and aggression may become worse if not addressed. Some children have significant problems with concentration and paying attention but are not overactive or impulsive. These pupils may be described as having ADD (attention deficit disorder) and can easily be overlooked because they are quiet and dreamy rather than disruptive. Medication is sometimes used to help children with ADHD. This is controversial, but many parents find that an appropriate prescription (correct dosage is crucial) succeeds in quietening down a child, allowing him to listen and learn more effectively, transforming his life and the lives of other family members. BESD needs are also associated with some genetic or biological conditions – such as attachment disorders, Tourette syndrome, fragile X, or autism. Similarly, EBD may also be associated with exceptionally high levels of ability: when work is insufficiently challenging, boredom can set in and result in the pupil creating his own ‘entertainment’.

Why do they misbehave?

Pupils with BESD needs are troubled children whose emotional state leads them into negative behavior. They may seek attention – even the negative kind, or ‘lash out’ at a world where they feel everyone is against them. All of this results in a serious lack of positive feedback and a downward spiraling of self-esteem. The child becomes his own worst enemy. It’s important for teachers to recognize this and try to determine the reasons behind it. Has an individual:

  • been rejected, hurt or neglected by parents?
  • lost a loved one?
  • been suffering from medical problems?
  • experienced difficulties with language and communication?
  • been caring for a sick parent?
  • been teased or bullied?
  • been unable to do work because it’s not at the right level?
  • felt confused by social situations he doesn’t understand (autistic)?
  • suffering from feelings of failure and low self-esteem?

It’s crucial that teachers understand the underlying factors that impact on their pupils’ behavior. This is more difficult for teachers in secondary schools, who spend less time with each pupil than do their primary-school colleagues. Here, the SENCO can be particularly effective in acting as advocate for the child; confidentiality is an important issue, but colleagues are much more likely to be sympathetic to someone ‘throwing a wobbly’ if they know there are extenuating circumstances at home. Pupils who are caring for sick or disabled parents for example, those in care, and those who survive in dysfunctional families may need flexibility in terms of handing in homework, etc. Teaching assistants are often an invaluable resource in supporting older pupils, moving with them from subject to subject and creating a good working relationship underpinned by a consistent and sympathetic approach. Learning mentors can also be a great support, providing ‘drop-in’ sessions during breaktimes, being good listeners and helping pupils to make appropriate choices about how they conduct themselves. Though most pupils with BESD needs are taught in mainstream schools, teachers are often less enthusiastic about the inclusion of this group than they are about children and young people with physical or learning difficulties. They may lack confidence in dealing with pupils who are uncooperative in any way and feel powerless to influence their behavior. There is also concern about the detrimental effect on the learning of other pupils in the class. But a lot can be achieved by employing basic behavior management techniques consistently, and by understanding the impact of effective teaching and learning on standards of behavior and general feelings of ‘wellbeing’. Next week, we look at some practical strategies to share with colleagues.


Find out more:
> Articles on special educational needs
> Special educational needs publications
> Back to SENCO Week index page

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2007

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.