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The importance of early intervention for Social Emotional Mental Health: Why it improves pupil outcomes

World Mental Health day is upon us - so what are we doing as educators to protect the wellbeing of our pupils?

Young people’s mental health is high on the agenda for schools across the country, but are we equipped with evidence-based resources to support pupils? How can we embed a purposeful menu of high-quality interventions that will promote pupil wellbeing?

The current landscape for wellbeing in education

There is demand on schools to fill the gaps in provision for pupil mental health and wellbeing.

Add to this the dwindling school budgets and universal service cuts, coupled with the demand to show positive outcomes in pupil attainment – there is no wonder that schools feel overwhelmed by the growing need for pupil SEMH support in education.

Early intervention starts with noticing the signs

Early intervention means identifying and providing effective early support to children and young people who are at risk of poor outcomes. Staff training is an essential starting point as we need to equip our school staff with high quality mental health training to notice pupils presenting challenges and poor mental health. Staff are then able to safely identify their needs and be confident and proactive with their next steps. A fantastic tool for understanding needs is the Mentally Healthy Schools website, which we advertise throughout our school and which should be advertised widely in schools across the country.

“With lots of free resources available for SEMH intervention, pupil wellbeing doesn’t have to be financially constraining.”

Identifying needs and measuring mental health matters

Knowing your pupils is the starting point to establish a purposeful provision for pupil SEMH, and there are many measuring tools to use. My advice is to first look at your available budget, then think about the questions you want answered. Screening processes will highlight the focus areas of pupil needs.

At Lessness Health, we have currently created our own evaluation tool that we call the Pupil Wellbeing Profile. We also use SDQ (strength and difficulty questionnaires) and the Boxall profile. You can find a whole range of measuring tools at CORC (Child Outcomes Resource Consortium).

Being proactive rather than reactive

“It is vital that schools offer a responsive approach with early intervention that is proactive rather than reactive.”

Supporting students with SEMH needs can be a real challenge. Not only are school staff not trained mental health practitioners – access to the kinds of support some students need is restricted both by overwhelming demand and funding cuts. This shortfall of higher tiered support leaves educators with the task of bridging the gap of pupils waiting for medically trained or qualified professionals to prescribe mental health support, therefore it is vital that schools offer a responsive approach with early intervention that is proactive rather than reactive.

We have found great value from using the Anna Freud Centre resources: our teachers find these to be high quality, the resources are user friendly and save time in planning interventions. Our pupils report back that they find these lessons purposeful and meaningful.

“Pupils deserve the right to flourish from adversity.”

At Lessness Heath we offer a wide range of SEMH support that includes a four-tiered approach to intervention.

Tier 1 – Encompasses quality-first teaching that takes place within the classroom.

Tier 2 – Includes in-school referrals for pupils to have ELSA (emotional literacy support) or Draw and Talk interventions with trained Teaching Assistants.

Tier 3 – Involves pupils being referred to have therapeutic support with a trained play specialist, this could also include deeper family support work.

Tier 4 – If all the above have not been successful in meeting the pupils’ needs, a quality referral to CAMHS (child adolescent mental health service) would be made. Including all the evidence of previous SEMH interventions adds weight to the referral.

“Find the strengths within your organisations.”

Relationships are important

As Rita Pearce said in her TED Talk, “Every child deserves a champion, an adult that will never give up on them and recognise the importance of relationships.” This philosophy can be played out in so many simple ways within the school environment:

  • Use regular meet and greets, check in/check out.
  • Offer time to talk, secure time for pupils to explore feelings.
  • Use key professionals/learning mentors to build safe relationships with vulnerable pupils.
  • Provide talking tools such as feeling/sensory boxes within the classroom, to help pupils self-regulate.
  • Recruit Pupil Wellbeing Ambassadors.
  • Ensure the voice of the pupil is heard and acted upon.


The use of wellbeing displays around the school can really help in releasing the stigma around talking about mental health. Wellbeing is threaded through every fabric of our school community.

“Placing an emphasis on pupil wellbeing, creates outstanding outcomes for children and young people in education.”

Kelly Hannaghan is the wellbeing leader at Lessness Heath Primary School and has spent her professional career passionately focusing on enhancing the opportunities and life chances of pupils and families in education. Through the power of her mental health training and therapeutic skills, she has successfully led on the ‘Wellbeing Award for Schools’ process, resulting in the school being the first nationally to achieve this.