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Ethnic disproportionality in the identification of Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) Needs

(22 February 2019)

This seminar will take place on Wednesday, 13 March, 1pm, in ED 134 in the School of Education. The seminar will be led by Steve Strand, Professor of Education and Fellow of St. Cross College, University of Oxford. Everyone is welcome to attend and booking is not required. For more information please contact

In the US the over-representation of Black (African American) students in the special education category of Emotional Disturbance is well established (e.g. Donovan & Cross, 2002) and similar results are reported for Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs for some Black groups in England (Strand & Lindsay, 2009).

However recent US research has claimed that after control for prior attainment and socio-economic circumstances Black American students are actually under-represented for SEN relative to their White peers (e.g., Morgan et al, 2015; 2017).

This paper uses national administrative data from England to conduct a longitudinal analysis of the identification of SEMH among over 550,000 pupils from age 5-11 years. Survival analysis is used to determine the Hazard Ratios (HRs) for time to first SEMH identification, controlling for prior attainment and social-emotional adjustment at age 5 as well socio-economic factors.

Black Caribbean and Mixed White & Black Caribbean (MWBC) students are more than twice as likely to be identified with SEMH as White British students (HR=2.3 and 1.9 respectively), and they continue to be disproportionately identified after control for poverty and age 5 prior attainment and social adjustment (HR=1.4 and 1.5 respectively).

School composition variables (e.g. % of pupils in poverty and % of Black Caribbean pupils) raise the overall risks of identification but explain little of the ethnic disproportionality.

Notably the numerically larger Black African group are not over-represented (HR=1.12) and indeed are significantly under-represented relative to White British pupils in the adjusted analyses (HR=0.65).

The results suggest disproportionate identification for SEMH exists for some ethnic groups, but cannot simply be ascribed to teacher racism.


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