Social, Emotional and Mental Health


Social, emotional and mental health is sometimes called (SEMH) for short. Having good SEMH creates the foundations for healthy and positive interactions. When children and young people feel safe and secure, they can engage in their education.

Having good SEMH means that people can cope with the stress and demands of everyday life. They are able to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them. They can also make a positive contribution in their communities. People with good SEMH experience fewer emotional or mental health difficulties.

Emotional wellbeing

Positive emotional wellbeing allows a young person to function well in society. They can meet the demands of everyday life. All people have ups and downs in their emotional wellbeing (high stress and low stress days). This is perfectly normal and a natural part of our thinking and thought processes. Yet, this may become an issue when a young person’s emotional wellbeing is negatively affected. This could be through long periods of unsupported stress and or anxiety. This may also affect their psychological / social wellbeing. It can result in a child or young person being unable to cope with the stress and strains of day to day life.

Psychological wellbeing

Psychological wellbeing is the ability to:

  • be self-reliant
  • problem solve
  • manage emotions
  • see aspects from other people’s perspective
  • be able to give and receive constructive criticism and
  • be attentive

During times of high stress and anxiety, some aspects of a child’s or young person’s psychological wellbeing may not function. During these times it is important that a young person’s emotional and social wellbeing is strong. These abilities will allow them to deal with the difficulties they face.

Social wellbeing

Social wellbeing is the ability to form and hold positive and age appropriate relationships with others. Good social wellbeing allows a young person to function with their peers. This is in such a way so as not to cause distress and or harm to themselves or others. Poor social wellbeing may impact a person's ability to overcome challenging social situations. It may lead to a negative effect to their psychological / emotional wellbeing.

A special educational need is something that makes it harder for a child/ young person to learn. These children and young people may need extra or different help. Many children and young people will have SEN of some kind at some time during their education.

Social emotional and mental health (SEMH) is a special educational need when a child / young person’s daily life is affected. This may affect their:

  • achievements
  • ability to form positive relationships
  • mental wellbeing
  • ability to manage their own emotions and behaviour

SEMH and the SEND Code of Practice 0-25 years

We refer to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) code of practice 0-25 years. (2014, p.98) 

  • It introduces Social, Emotional Mental Health as a new Special Educational Need (SEN). Removing Behavioural, Emotional and Social difficulties.
  • It identifies that inappropriate, disturbing and or challenging behaviours are a sign of underlying or un-met need.
  • It outlines how the social and emotional difficulties experienced by children and young may manifest themselves. 

SEMH as a specific area of special educational need in Cornwall

Identifying a child or young person as having SEMH as a primary area of SEN should be a “last resort”.

First, other areas of SEN have to be fully investigated. We do this through the Assess, Plan, Do, Review process

Clear evidence needs to be produced showing that behaviours / unwanted actions are not a result of an unmet or undiagnosed need.

The main areas for investigation prior to assessing SEMH as a SEN are:

Communication and Interaction

We call speech, language and communication needs SLCN for short. Children/young people with SLCN have difficulty in communicating with others.

They may have difficulty with:

  • speech
  • language
  • social communication
  • or all of these

We call Autistic Spectrum Conditions ASC for short. This includes autism and Asperger's.

Children and young people with ASC are likely to have difficulties with social interaction. They may also experience difficulties with language, communication and imagination. This can impact on how they relate to others.

For more information visit

Cognition and Learning

Children and young people who learn at a slower pace than their peers may need support. This is in cases where appropriate differentiation is not enough.

For more information visit the Cognition and Learning Service information pages.

Sensory and or physical

Some children / young people need special educational provision because they have a disability. It may prevent or hinder them from making use of educational facilities. These difficulties can be age related and may fluctuate over time. Many children / young people with impairments will need specialist support and/or equipment to access learning or habilitation support.

For more information visit:

We can help support and sustain good mental health by

  • having a clear understanding of what might be causing the negative impact
  • knowing where to go for support and help

How a child or young person can be supported in schools and educational settings

First, other areas of SEN have to be fully investigated. We do this through the Assess, Plan, Do, Review process.

Clear evidence needs to be produced showing that behaviours / unwanted actions are not a result of an unmet or undiagnosed need. See the Social, Emotional Mental Health as a Special Educational Need section for more information.

Universal or targeted support should resolve most concerning behaviours. It's only when these are ineffective that we give specialist support to educational settings.

The Assess, Plan, Do, Review process

The SEND Code of Practice 0-25 promotes the use of the ‘Assess, Plan, Do, Review’ cycle.

This is used to meet the needs of pupils and improve practice at many levels ensuring that:

  • individual pupils at SEN support and those with an EHC plan receive the best provision to achieve positive outcomes.
  • SEN provision made by an educational setting evolves to meet the needs of all pupils with SEN.

Graduated response and support

When a pupil is identified as having SEN the school must take immediate action. Staff must put effective SEN provision in place and remove all barriers to learning. The Graduated response details the support offered.

The graduated response tool sets out the minimum standards for pupils with SEN across Cornwall. The aim of the document is to inform inclusive, enabling and consistent practice across Cornwall’s schools. This forms part of the plan for a child or young person’s SEN provision/s. 

Managing self-harm guidance and toolkit

The guide recognises the growing number of young people who harm themselves in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Young people living in Great Britain have the highest rate of self-injury in Europe. Many school staff struggle to know how to respond to incidents of self-harm. 

The guide supports the local transformation plan for children and young people’s mental health services. Turning the Tide is in its third iteration. It supports the valuable work taking place through the i-Thrive Framework.

It will also support and complement your self-harm policy. This may be something your school has or is developing.

It includes:

  • What is self-harm?
  • Who self-harms and what are the risks?
  • Why young people self-harm
  • How self-harm works
  • Spotting the warning signs
  • Responding to self-harm in schools
  • Assessing risk
  • Confidentiality and information sharing
  • Other factors to consider
  • Roles and responsibilities within schools
  • Guidance for primary schools

Download the managing self-harm guide

Online support

Sometimes community and voluntary support helps resolve issues relating to SEMH. This is as well as educational support. Find out more on Cornwall SEND Local offer.

Top tips for having good SEMH

Cornwall’s new free school becomes a step closer

The special school will provide 65 places for children aged from 5 to 16. It will be a centre of educational excellence for pupils with a significant level of Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs.

The development of the Free School marks the next phase of the Trust’s development. Families are struggling now but these are exciting times for Cornwall.

All pupils who attend the school will be placed by Cornwall Council and have education, health and care (EHC) plans. Council staff are already working closely with the Department for Education on the design for the new school building.

Portfolio Holder for Children, Health and Well Being, Councillor Sally Hawken, said:

“Cornwall is geographically challenging. Families can often find themselves travelling long distances to get the right kind of support. This new building will enable us to fill a gap in our current services.  It will be a huge benefit to children and their families in Cornwall.” 

For compliments, comments and complaints contact the semh@cornwall.gov.uk.  More information can be found on the compliments, comments and complaints page.

Need help?

Most issues can be resolved online, it's the quickest and most convenient way to get help.

Your feedback is important to us

Help us improve our service