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Article published 9th June 2008

Behavioural emotional and social difficulties (BESD) describes a wide range of conditions including: withdrawn, depressive or suicidal attitudes; an obsessive preoccupation with eating habits; school phobia; substance misuse; disruptive, antisocial and uncooperative behaviour; and frustration, anger and threat of or actual violence. All affect a child’s own learning and can impact significantly on the education of peers.

A primary diagnosis of BESD is associated with problems that usually have, or are assumed to have, their roots in ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’. 

Strategies that help

Specialist approaches are often required for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) or social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD). For some children medication or psychiatric intervention may be needed and attendance at a BESD school will be the most appropriate way for the child to receive the specialist help and attention required.

There is no easy answer to appropriate classroom strategies for a child with BESD because of the wide range of conditions that can underpin the label; however, the following may help:

  • small, carefully thought-out group settings or one-to-one working
  • use of learning mentors (or key workers or equivalent)
  • careful monitoring and targeting
  • structured routine
  • individual education plans (IEPs)
  • SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related) targets
  • clear guidelines
  • involving and working closely with parents and the child
  • differentiated work tailored to learning need
  • rewarding and reinforcing positive behaviour
  • enhanced personal social and health education programmes
  • programmes for managing and controlling behaviour
  • anger-management programmes
  • counselling and peer support.

One special school we visited found the use of circle time at the end of the day to discuss the day, problems and their resolutions, to be effective and positive.

Another mainstream school told us that early intervention and the introduction of nurture groups appears to have lessened problems with behaviour and had a positive impact on all pupils, not just those in the nurture group.



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