The label of BESD

Last week I read & commented on a paper by Broomhead (2012) and this week I’ve been reading ‘Private knowledge, public face: Conceptions of children with SEBD by teachers in the UK – a case study’ by Armstrong and Hallett (2012) and ‘Special units for young people on the autistic spectrum in mainstream schools: sites of normalisation, abnormalisation, inclusion, and exclusion’ by Holt, Lea and Bowlby (2012).

I have to say that Broomfield’s paper left me somewhat irked. Perhaps not so much by the content as, although it didn’t really relate to my own experience, I can see how it would relate to other parents I’ve talked with. It’s a specific terminology used throughout the report that’s grating – the use of the term BESD. I realise that it has been applied using accepted conventions, but I find it flipping annoying! ‘Behavioural, emotional and social difficulties’, what does that mean exactly? And is it right to apply the term to such a broad group of people?

Behaviour – this is what states:


  1. manner of behaving or acting.
  2. Psychology, Animal Behavior.
  3. a) observable activity in a human or animal.
  4. b) the aggregate of responses to internal and external stimuli.
  5. c) a stereotyped, species-specific activity, as a courtship dance or startle reflex.
  6. Often, behaviors. a behavior pattern.
  7. the action or reaction of any material under given circumstances: the behavior of tin under heat.

So, the manner of behaviour or acting. Observable activity? Aggregate responses? Don’t we all do that? Ah, a stereotyped response. Maybe we’re getting there – stereotype. My 2nd degree is in Health & Social Care, one of the main themes running through my degree was the need to examine my own perspectives and biases, in order to avoid, as much as is possible, stereotyping. Stereotypes are, by their own nature, over-simplifications that create a ‘type’ of person, and something that, as a consequence of creating a ‘type’, lead to prejudice and discrimination.

Emotional – so what does have to say for this one?


  1. pertaining to or involving emotion or the emotions.
  2. subject to or easily affected by emotion : We are an emotional family, given to demonstrations of affection.
  3. appealing to the emotions : an emotional request for contributions.
  4. showing or revealing very strong emotions : an emotional scene in a play.
  5. actuated, effected, or determined by emotion rather than reason: An emotional decision is often a wrong decision.
  6. governed by emotion : He is in a highly emotional state of mind.

Well, I think the explanations provided says it all. Now, the piece of my name used for this blog does not give indication of my gender & I am well aware that online I am often mistaken for being male, so I’m just pointing out here that I am female. I am sure that unless you live as a Hermit & without any form of social media, you will have heard the phrase ‘calm down dear’ and, if you are female, you’ve probably heard ‘oh, I can tell you’re on’ (or similar) more times than you ever, ever want to recall. Gendered terms specifically invented by men with small penises, who are desperate to assert their (lack of) manhood. Not that I wish to stereotype of course, but the idea that a woman’s nervous system is run from the womb is just as preposterous as the idea that men keep their brains in their trousers. To call a child ’emotional’, no, unfair and designed to belittle, in my opinion.

Social – well, I won’t bother with the dictionary here.

The new SEN Code of Practice now uses the term social, emotional and mental health difficulties. Interestingly, or not depending on your own perspective, it describes these thus:

6.32 Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.

6.33 Schools and colleges should have clear processes to support children and young people, including how they will manage the effect of any disruptive behaviour so it does not adversely affect other pupils. The Department for Education publishes guidance on managing pupils’ mental health and behaviour difficulties in schools – see the References section under Chapter 6 for a link.

My interest is 6.33, note the emphasis on ‘disruptive behaviour’? So, a child who is extremely distressed should be prevented from allowing any of his/her classmates to be adversely affected by it? Bit inhuman if you ask me, a bit ‘quick, let’s hide this child away before s/he affects the sensibilities of the class’? Oh, and if you’re a teacher, you may like a snippet of the link provided, I’ve placed it below. It suggests that teachers could become mental health counsellors by taking a few elearning modules. Quite, quite scary. I have a Level 5 Certificate in Mental Health Studies (60 credits), but there’s no way on this planet would I even consider offering MH support off the back of that, even with the elearning modules. What training do other teachers have in MH? And yet, I stopped a parent in her tracks when reciting a part of her child’s statement – ‘the SENCO will devise a programme of support for Xs mental health needs’ (or similar). I asked the parent what training the SENCO had in the complex MH needs of a child with ASD. It hadn’t crossed her mind what it actually meant. CAMHS is impossible to get for a child with ASD nationally, it seems from Twitter & personal conversations, unless your child has either completely crashed or is seriously threatening to cause harm to others. So the government wants teachers to step in to the gap provided by a lack of funding, their funding, of children’s mental health services?

I fear that I have wandered off topic, well maybe not so much off topic, but wandered away from the two papers I read this week. I think I’ll blog them separately before this post gets too long and unwieldy. By post perhaps I mean rant?

But my point at the start was – BESD, it would bloody infuriate me if I were under such a label, so why is it ok to stereotype young adults-in-the-making with such a term? What purpose does it serve a professional who a) has a degree and therefore should be educated into knowing better and b) has probably also done some credits at a post-graduate level. Ditch the label, teach to the need – and provide proper counsellors from central government funds to provide for MH support.

Link – counselling

3.6. School-based counselling is one of the most prevalent forms of psychological therapy for young people in the UK. Most secondary schools offer some form of counselling service. These services generally provide one-to-one supportive therapy, with pupils referred through their pastoral care teachers, and attending for three to six sessions. Non-directive supportive therapy BACP also have a Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists which is accredited by the Department of Health. In addition, in March 2014 the Department of Health and BACP launched Counselling MindEd, a free programme of e-learning modules, to support the training and supervision of counselling work with children and young people. 19 is recommended by NICE for mild depression20 and there is emerging evidence to suggest that school-based humanistic counselling21 is effective at reducing psychological distress and helping pupils achieve their goals. Both the pupils who use it and school staff believe school-based counselling to be an effective means of improving students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing. They also believe it enhances pupils’ capacity to study and learn.22 A variety of resources and services are available to assist schools in establishing or developing counselling services, including from the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapists (BACP) and various national and local voluntary organisations.


Broomhead, K (2013) ‘Blame, guilt and the need for ‘labels’; insights from parents of children with special educational needs and educational practitioners’ in British Journal of Special Education Vol 40, Issue 1, pp14-21

Armstrong, D. and Hallett, F. (2012) ‘Private knowledge, public face: Conceptions of children with SEBD by teachers in the UK – a case study’ in Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 29, No. 4, pp 77- 87

Holt, L., Lea, J. and Bowlby, S. (2012) ‘Special units for young people on the autistic spectrum in mainstream schools: sites of normalisation, abnormalisation, inclusion, and exclusion’ in Environment and Planning A Vol. 44, pp 2191-2206


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