Now You See Us report (2019)

Now You See Us report Executive Summary

Previously undiscovered social, emotional and mental health need found by school-wide study of primary school pupils.

Nurtureuk released the findings of a study in which primary schools assessed the social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs of every pupil in their school and found that one in three pupils in the pilot schools had a moderate or severe level of SEMH needs.

Conducted across four terms in 25 primary schools in England, teachers in the pilot used the Boxall Profile® to assess the SEMH needs of more than 6,800 pupils. 10% of children assessed had severe SEMH needs. Whilst this is in line with government figures for diagnosable disorders like ADHD and behaviour difficulties, the study also found that a largely hidden 26% of all children were found to have moderate SEMH needs.

The most common difficulty experienced by pupils related to having low self-esteem or a lack of emotional security in school. This could mean pupils distrusting adults or finding it difficult to ask for help when needed. Other common issues related to concentrating in class and having difficulties accommodating to other children and adults through actions like sharing.

As well as uncovering previously unidentified need, the pilot showed how gaining an understanding of the SEMH needs across the whole-school population empowered teachers and schools to do something about it. Teachers who took part in the study reported that not only did their understanding of the children’s underlying needs that caused difficult behaviour improved, but they were able to adapt their practice to better support children’s needs within the class. If support was put in place following assessment, there was a 23% increase in the number of pupils who had no apparent SEMH needs after just five months.

Teachers thought the time taken to assess their pupils was worthwhile with 92% of schools that successfully assessed all their pupils saying they would recommend the approach to other schools.

Identifying children with issues that would not normally be picked up could help schools put in place early interventions and could prevent issues escalating into more complex mental health difficulties. Early support for SEMH in childhood is also key to future adult mental health. In 2015, a report from the Early Intervention Foundation found that social emotional wellbeing in childhood is a key predictor of mental health later in life.

The tool used to assess pupils, the Boxall Profile®, is already one of the tools most frequently used by schools to assess children’s SEMH needs, according to a government report published in 2017. The class teachers taking part in the study used the Boxall Profile® to assess the needs of every child in their class, helping them develop a clear understanding of the SEMH needs of the children in their care and providing valuable data to their school to trigger more support for those who needed it.

This is the first large-scale study evaluating the impact of using the Boxall Profile® to assess the needs of all children in primary schools. Conducted by the charity nurtureuk and led by Dr Florence Ruby, the study comes just weeks after the Timpson Review on school exclusions emphasised the need for schools to “develop and embed a good understanding of how underlying needs can drive behaviour”.

Marsh Green Primary School in Wigan is one of the schools that participated in the study. Being recognised as a nurturing school through the National Nurturing Schools Award, they already used the Boxall Profile® extensively to gain a detailed understanding of the children they identified as needing additional support.

However, Jill Weatherston, the school’s nurture lead said using the Boxall Profile® with every child showed more unmet need than they expected: “It highlighted children that we would never have done any work with otherwise because they present as happy, calm and quiet. However, when we started assessing them they were flagged as having issues like an undeveloped sense of self and not having a good self-worth.”

Weatherston added that assessing every child helped spot issues earlier and enabled staff to plan early interventions: “We were able to act early rather than have children need more serious interventions in year 5 or 6 when issues like really disruptive behaviour might emerge”. Speaking about the benefits of using the Boxall Profile® with every child in school, Weatherston said: “We don't really notice the time elements. We know that we've got to do it. We know we've got to get it done by that day and we know why it's good for us to do it and how it benefits the school.”

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

Kevin Kibble, Chief Executive of nurtureuk said: “The Timpson Review called for teachers to be equipped to understand the underlying needs that lead to difficult behaviour, and the Boxall Profile® is one tool to help do this. We must help teachers identify and support children with SEMH needs before issues escalate, harming their education and potentially leading to exclusion”.