In this episode Alex Tomkins, Deputy Headteacher at Greenside School in Hertfordshire, raises some challenging questions. Social emotional and mental health (SEMH) is now a key component of the curriculum for children with special educational needs. Yet as a teaching profession we do have a strong background in this area. It’s certainly not a strong pedagogy.

We know that the mental health of children with SEND is more fragile, and certainly in this time of pandemic figures are showing a rise in anxiety and trauma following the period of lockdown. The need for teachers to enskill themselves is crucial.

Alex has been coordinating a group of schools on behalf of Evidence for Learning to look at this issue.

In a thought-provoking presentation, Alex focuses on teacher-led inquiry in SEMH. This is a vital and dynamic process – inquiry based practice will lead to an evidence base for teaching, and best judgements in this area.

Alex also considers the opportunities presented by current circumstances to reflect on how inquiry can become a more significant and ubiquitous feature of formative assessment systems.

Alex has read widely to inform his ideas and work and has kindly shared key resources from his literature review.

The title of Alex’s presentation is:

“Inquiry and SEMH… Is recovery the new ‘spark’ needed in our practice”

This is a thought-provoking episode, which will raise questions for the listener, as well as offering solutions to ways forward.

The video below contains the audio from LearningShared Episode 14 with visual slides from the presentation.

LearningShared Ep 14: Recovery Curriculum #14 Alex Tomkins (SEMH & Inquiry)

In this episode Alex Tomkins, Deputy Headteacher at Greenside School in Hertfordshire, raises some challenging questions. Social emotional and mental health (SEMH) is now a key component of the curriculum for children with special educational needs. Yet as a teaching profession we do have a strong background in this area.

Literature Review referred in Alex’s Presentation:

  • SEMH is often in-between Educational thinking and Psychology
  • Many interventions are based on psychological assessments (SDQ, BERS-2)
  • Older Initiatives such as SEAL and PSHE – have had limited feedback on their success… and not used in schools today (Greenhill 2018)
  • ‘Attachment awareness’ schools and other whole school approaches have shown successes (Parker et al 2019)
  • Strengths Based Assessments (SBA) appear to be developing further in a ‘medical’ way but also in the approaches encouraged to be used in the classroom to promote mental health (Climie et al 2016)
  • Underpinning successful programmes used with children with SEMH identified have involved a positive approach adopted by teachers (Carrol et al 2018)
  • Spratt (2016) suggests there are four themes which are explicit in discussions of wellbeing –
    • Theme 1: Discourse of physical health promotion, emerging from medicine
    • Theme 2: Discourse of social and emotional literacy, emerging from psychology
    • Theme 3: Discourse of care, emerging from the field of social care
    • Theme 4: Discourse of flourishing, emerging from philosophy
  • Positive Psychology (Tellis-James et al 2016) focuses on the future, strengths, resources and potential – body of evidence for a focus on the future…

Additional References:

  • Marsten, A. 2001. Ordinary Magic: Resilience and development. American Psychologist, 56, 227-238
  • Korsgaard, M. 2020. Exemplarity and education: Retuning educational research. BERJ.
  • Shulamit, N. Longstreth, S. 2019. Understanding Young Children’s Play: Seeing behaviour throughout the lens of Attachment theory. Young Children, Vol 74 Issue 2 p78-84
  • Mencap. 2020. Mental health. Available at: (Accessed 12.5.20)
  • Public Health England. 2019. Universal approaches to improving children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Report of the findings of SIG. PHE publications. Crown
  • Tomsett, J. 2015. This much I know. Crown House Publishing
  • Parker, R, Levinson, M (2019) Student behaviour; motivation and the potential of attachment-aware schools to redefine the landscape. BERJ, Volume 44, Issue 5
  • Greenhill, E. (2018) Which pastoral initiatives are used in primary schools in terms of supporting children’s mental health and giving teachers an insight into pastoral needs? Unpublished undergraduate dissertation, Bath Spa University
  • Spratt, J. (2016) Childhood wellbeing: What role for education? British Educational Research Journal, 42(2) 223-239
  • Climie, E, Henley, L (2016) A renewed focus on strengths-based assessment in schools. NASEN
  • Carroll, C, Hurry , J (2018) Supporting pupils in school with SEMH needs:a scoping review of the literature. Emotional & Behavioural Difficulties, Vol 23 Issue 3 p310-325
  • Tellis-James, C. Fox, M (2016) Positive narratives: the stories young people with SEBD tell about their futures. Educational Psychology in Practice. Vol. 32 Issue 4 p327-342

About Alex Tomkins

I have worked in education for 15 years, starting my career working in a residential care for children with complex SEND.

After seeing SEND from a parent perspective I trained as a primary teacher before working in number of SEND schools, until my current position as a Deputy Head at Greenside Special School in Hertfordshire.

I have strong passion for developing everyone’s mental well-being and an advocate for the importance of a 24 hour curriculum.

My experiences and connections have led me to develop a SEMH project specifically for SEND settings and children. 

Alex is on Twitter at:


More info on the Recovery Curriculum

For information on the Recovery Curriculum, including the original Think Piece entitled “A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic”, lectures, resources, reference materials and details of the online communities of practice, visit:

Join the conversation about The Recovery Curriculum:

Clearly any form of Recovery Curriculum will need to be unique to each and every school, contextualised to the ethos, culture and values of that school, as well as its existing curriculum and crucially reflecting and addressing the needs and aspirations of its unique population of learners.

We have created private groups in LinkedIn and Facebook where colleagues and peers can discuss and share thoughts, ideas, experiences, resources and learning in relation to education and provision post pandemic. The groups are also an opportunity to connect people and help you to build a network that can support you on your own important journey over the coming months.

Facebook Group: Recovery Curriculum

We’ve set up a private facebook group specifically for The Recovery Curriculum at:

or search for “recoverycurriculum” in Facebook.

Facebook: EfL SEND Community Group

Join us at:

or search for “eflSENDCommunity” in Facebook.

The purpose of the group is to provide a safe, closed space to seek out and share ideas, experience and resources that can help with any and all aspects of SEND provision. It’s also a community for practitioners and schools that use Evidence for Learning and Insights for Learning to share ideas, resources and support each other in using these apps. This is a peer-moderated and supported group.

Linkedin Group: The Recovery Curriculum

The group is called “A Recovery Curriculum for children & schools post-pandemic” and you can find it at: