NICE guidance advises that primary schools take a whole-school approach to children’s emotional and social wellbeing. Raising Achievement Update has a look

The NICE guidance on promoting the social and emotional wellbeing of primary-age children recommends that schools and children’s services promote a holistic approach which ‘recognises the importance of a supportive and secure environment and an ethos that avoids stigma and discrimination in relation to mental health and social and emotional difficulties.’

The guidance is designed to complement other initiatives, such as SEAL and the National Healthy Schools programme which, it says, ‘provide important vehicles for implementing these recommendations.’

Comprehensive programmes
The guidance recommends that all primary schools should be encouraged to adopt a comprehensive ‘whole-school approach’ to children’s social and emotional wellbeing. This should involve:

  • creating an ethos and conditions that support positive behaviours for learning and for successful relationships
  • providing an emotionally secure environment that prevents any form of bullying or violence
  • supporting all pupils and, where appropriate, their parents or carers
  • providing specific help for those children most at risk of social, emotional and behavioural problems
  • offering teachers and practitioners training and support in how to develop children’s social, emotional and psychological wellbeing.

The guidance also recommends that schools:

  • offer children ‘a curriculum that integrates the development of social and emotional skills within all subject areas,’ and is ‘provided through primary education by appropriately trained teachers and practitioners’
  • integrate activities to support the development of social and emotional skills and wellbeing in all areas of school life through, for example, assemblies, homework and opportunities for play
  • help parents or carers to develop their parenting skills.

Targeted approaches Another recommendation is that teachers and practitioners should be trained to identify

and assess the early signs of anxiety, emotional distress and behavioural problems, such as when children:

  • have poor peer relationships
  • show signs of low self-esteem
  • withdraw from others.

‘Teachers should,’ the guidance states, ‘be able to assess whether a specialist should be involved and make an appropriate request.’ Such specialists should normally be involved only ‘if the child has a combination of risk factors and/or the difficulties are recurrent or persistent.’

‘At some point,’ the guidance says, ‘all children may demonstrate emotional, social and behavioural difficulties during the normal experience of childhood. But they are not always indicative of a significant psychological or medical problem.’

Interventions
Commissioners of services need to provide a range of interventions that ‘are proven to be effective according to the child’s needs. These should be part of a multi-agency approach to support the child and their family and may be offered in schools and other settings.’ Appropriate provision may include:

  • problem-focused group sessions delivered by appropriately trained specialists in receipt of clinical supervision
  • group parenting sessions for the parents or carers of these children, run in parallel with the children’s sessions.

The guidance emphasises the need for care when using group-based approaches, since including both aggressive and non-aggressive children in the same group may have adverse consequences for the latter. It is important, the authors state, ‘to respond to individual needs.’

Impact
‘An integrated approach, using universal and targeted interventions, could prevent the negative behaviours which can lead to costly consequences for the NHS, social services and the criminal justice system.’

Research
NICE argues that there is a need for further research to establish:

  • what indicators should be used to measure the emotional and social wellbeing of primary school children and to monitor changes over time
  • what is the most effective and cost-effective way to improve the emotional and social wellbeing of primary school children, particularly those from vulnerable groups
  • what are the most effective ways to involve parents or carers, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • what are the most effective ways of involving children in the development, implementation and evaluation of programmes to promote emotional and social wellbeing.
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