Post 16 social, emotional and mental health difficulties - additional guidance

Identifying and supporting additional post 16 SEMH difficulties and strategies.

The move to college can be an exciting and invigorating time for students with SEND. Many yearn for the opportunity to be more independent and focus on subjects which nurture their strengths and interests.

Although college continues to mirror the school environment and the systems may be familiar to the students, there are key differences which can cause difficulties to arise. These difficulties may be ones which the learner has either not experienced during their school years or ones they have been able to successfully manage, (sometimes with additional support), up to this point in their education. 

Identified barriers and/or need – Some key factors which may be common causes of Social, Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health issues amongst post 16 students with SEND:

  • The emphasis and expectation regarding independent learning at all levels of qualification. To thrive in a college setting, a student needs to be equipped with good study skills particularly in relation to organisation of time and work, note taking and memorising techniques. The linear ‘A’ levels and new BTEC qualifications demand strong memory retention and recall and the ability to disseminate knowledge within set time constraints, whether these be via assessment deadlines or exam conditions.
  • The pace of the curriculum, particularly at level 3. The linear A levels and Level 3 BTECs have more extensive specifications, which must be taught, continually assessed and revised within a relatively short time span. In many colleges there has been an increasing emphasis on ‘flipped learning’ where the student is expected to acquire the factual knowledge for a topic area via their independent learning. The classroom is very much for checking, consolidating and practising how to use this knowledge in formal assessed work.
  • The reduction/withdrawal of external services/support as the student reaches their 16th birthday. For example, SALT/ support from the West Sussex Sensory Support team. Although some specialist support can be acquired via referral to private services, e.g. Hearing Impaired and Visual Impairment consultants, settings often do not have the resourcing to match the support previously offered, (unless the learner is supported by an EHCP).
  • The structure of the student’s timetable and the college day which can remove them from previous, long term friendship groups, whom they may have previously relied upon for support and interaction.
  • They may not wish to disclose their SEND difficulties/differences. This may be due to their desire not to be ‘labelled’, their fear that disclosure will prejudice their place at college, or, as many now complete their application forms without support, they did not think to include it or understand the question on the form.
  • Transition to a new setting can invoke strong emotions within some learners who struggle with change and fear the unfamiliar.

Addressing the impact of these factors on Social, Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health:


Anxiety in students may be general, social or in relation to learning and is often one of the key difficulties’ college/sixth form settings SEND support teams are asked to support. Learning related anxiety is prevalent amongst this group. Learners with SEND commonly experience difficulties relating to speed of processing, working memory, time management and organisation. When they experience high levels of worry or anxiety and their threat response is triggered, working memory and the ability to process information will be further hampered as their brain shifts into ‘survival’ mode. This can add to the learner’s distress and feelings of failure which can then impact their attendance and performance in their courses.

Some Support Strategies:

  • Student wellbeing courses specifically aimed at students who are experiencing issues with their mental health, such as anxiety can be beneficial. For example, Collyers Sixth Form College offers:
  • Mindfulness (an 8 week course)
  • Academic Anxiety (a short course which runs over 4 weeks)
  • Cognitive Based Skills (a short course which runs over 4 weeks)
  • Referrals for counselling may also be used as a support strategy.
  • Providing a drop-in facility for students for help with generic study skills and emotional wellbeing.
  • Providing transition support/programmes with a focus on the acquisition/development of the study skills and studentship qualities required for further education and higher education study subjects.
  • Be aware of referral routes within college. These routes may be different in different colleges but may include Pastoral Mentors, Mental Health Advisors, Counsellors and Safeguarding Leads.


Isolation can have a devastating impact on a student’s experience of college and can impact on their emotional wellbeing, mental health and their ability to engage with their courses. Feedback from post 16 settings is that feelings of isolation are becoming more prevalent amongst students.

Some support strategies:

  • Providing supervised/facilitated social opportunities/spaces on a regular basis which students know about and are comfortable to attend and participate in at whatever level suits them.
  • Providing other spaces that offer opportunities for social interactions/connections – e.g. a ‘Comfort Zone’ for quiet work. Often students using this facility begin to chat to others and form friendships.
  • Peer mentoring – this might be an informal arrangement supported by the setting SEND support team or a more formal arrangement such as Circle of Friends.

In addition, careful pairing and grouping within the classroom can encourage peer interaction.

It is important that all students with SEND or any other potential vulnerabilities (e.g. disadvantaged students, Care Leavers, Young Carers) are seen as individuals requiring tailored support to meet their needs. Many post-16 settings develop an ‘integrated approach’ to providing extra support to students. This means that any student who accesses support is initially assessed not only in terms of their learning needs, but also their wellbeing. Our WSCC post 16 settings report that they often find that students requiring additional support, benefit from a package of support rather than just one discrete intervention.