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Social-emotional Skills Help SEN Children Improve Academic Performance

Date: 29/08/2023

  • Almost a fifth refuse classes due to primary school adaptation pressure

  • HKCS advocates social-emotional training for SEN children

A survey has found that the higher the social-emotional skills of children with special educational needs (SEN), the better their academic performance and the lower the pressure of learning and parental care. It has always been difficult for SEN children to adapt to primary school, and as the number of SEN primary and secondary students in Hong Kong has doubled in the past ten years to nearly 60,000, the needs of SEN children should be noticed. Hong Kong Christian Service (HKCS) surveyed on 'Social and Emotional Support for SEN Children Adapting to Primary School' this year, interviewing 347 parents of SEN children and 158 professionals serving SEN children, and found that SEN children and their parents are under immense pressure due to the problem of adapting to primary school. HKCS, therefore, recommends that the government, schools and pre-school rehabilitation services strengthen social and emotional support in the primary school adaptation programme.


  • In the parents’ questionnaire, most respondents were female, with 57.6% aged between 31 and 40. 85.6% were caring for one or two SEN children.
  • Respondents to the professionals’ questionnaire included principals, teachers, social workers and therapists. 60.1% had five or more years of experience serving SEN children.

Results and Analysis

1. Weaker Self-management Performance with Difficulty in Staying Calm
  • The mean scores of SEN children for ‘interpersonal skills’ and ‘self-management performance’ were 56.7 and 49.3 respectively (full score: 100). For self-management performance, the three most common difficulties experienced by SEN children were ‘not being able to calmly resolve disputes with classmates’, ‘not being able to stay calm when teased’ and ‘not being able to stay calm when disagreeing with others’.
2. Social-emotional Skills Help Improve Academic Performance and Reduce Stress
  • Regarding learning attitudes, the three most common difficulties experienced by SEN children were 'not being able to keep up with learning', 'not being able to answer the teacher’s questions in class' and 'not being able to concentrate in class'. The higher the social-emotional skills of SEN children, the better their academic performance.
  • As a result of moving up to primary school, 34.3% of SEN children faced 'very high' pressure to learn, and 18.4% had 'refused to go to school'. 36.0% of parents reported that the pressure of caring for their children was 'very high', and 27.1% had 'persistent sleep problems'. Compared to academic performance, the survey found that SEN children with higher social-emotional skills were more likely to be able to reduce the stress of learning and parental care.
3. Primary School Adaptation Programme Lacks Social-emotional Support 
  • Kindergartens currently design the primary school adaptation programme for K3 students, but more than 60% of professionals said schools do not devote enough teaching time to 'social development' (60.5%) and 'emotion management' (65.0%).
  • 62.4% of professionals said that the focus of teaching in schools was only on 'conventional learning'. The overemphasis on academic performance meant that SEN children lacked time to develop social-emotional skills.

Case Sharing

  1. Nga Yin, a working mother, has a six-year-old son, Long. He has autism spectrum disorder and developmental delay. His pre-school education was mainly spent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his lack of physical classroom experience resulted in weaker social-emotional skills. He started primary school in 2022/23 and has been unable to make friends. Nga Yin recalled that Long once had a dispute with his classmates because he could not sit in his original seat on the school bus and cried when he returned home. What is often seen as a common social problem is not easy for SEN children. At the time, Nga Yin was shocked and worried, 'I never imagined that Long would have such social difficulties. If the school can better follow up on his social-emotional skills as he adapts to primary school, it will make his primary school life more enjoyable.'

  2. Ning (a pseudonym), a full-time mother, has a son, Sing (a pseudonym), who is in Primary 2. He was recently diagnosed with attention deficit and autism spectrum disorder. Ning said that Sing’s emotions are usually volatile, and the speech therapist has found that his social-emotional skills are relatively weak and need continuous follow-up. Ning pointed out that the Primary 1 teacher pays more attention and recognition to Sing, which has calmed his emotions, and made him willing to learn and become the top student in his class. However, the Primary 2 teacher paid less attention to Sing. He was found more emotional and less motivated to learn, and his academic performance declined significantly. Ning recalled a time when the art teacher criticised Sing's work because she did not like Sing's work, so Sing refused to go back to school. Ning had to communicate with the school to deal with the situation.


Based on the above survey results, HKCS makes the following recommendations:

1. Enhancing Social-emotional Training for SEN Children

The primary school adaptation programme for SEN children provided by kindergartens, primary schools and pre-school rehabilitation services needs to increase the proportion of 'social development' and 'emotion management', especially for children about to move up to K3 and primary school. This will have a positive impact on their adaptation to primary school in various aspects in the short and long term.

2. Establishing Parents’ Training and Mutual Support Group

Primary schools and pre-school rehabilitation services should establish training and mutual support group for parents of SEN children. With practical training, parents can fully grasp the micro-skills of teaching their children to manage their emotions and increase flexibility and resilience, enabling families to cope with the adaptation to primary school and facilitating communication with schools.

3. Tips for Parents on Social and Emotional Support for Adapting to Primary School
  • Empathising: To observe, recognise and express children’s emotions.
  • Reasoning: To encourage and appreciate children’s flexibility in handling issues and give them guidance.
  • Sharing: To share feelings and thoughts more often.
  • Practising: To explain scenarios using role-playing, storytelling and drawing, etc.
  • Self-recognising: To recognise caring pressures and seek support.

Joyce To, Unit Head, Bridge-Integrated Education Service (Team 4) of HKCS, said, 'SEN children face many difficulties when they enter primary school, and their parents are also under great pressure to care for them. We need to improve the existing support as soon as possible to equip SEN children and their parents better. With funding from the Woven Charitable Foundation, HKCS has launched a programme called "Social & Emotional Support for P1 Adaptation of SEN Students", which is specifically designed to provide social and emotional support to SEN children and their parents as they move up to primary school, to help them effectively manage their emotions and interact with other people. The programme also introduces the CASEL theory on social and emotional education. We have already produced and distributed 5,000 copies of the home learning kits to SEN children in K3 to Primary 2 and their families. We hope to walk with them on their way to primary school.'

For media enquiries, please contact

Ms Joyce TO, Unit Head, Bridge-Integrated Education Service (Team 4) (Tel: 3793 4162)

Mr Don CHENG, Assistant Corporate Communication Officer (Tel: 2731 6263)

> > > Press Release 2023 < < <

  • From left: Annette Au, Centre-in-Charge, Wan Tsui Early Education & Training Centre; Joyce TO, Unit Head, Bridge-Integrated Education Service (Team 4); Monica Siu, Social Worker, Yuen Long Early Education & Training Centre, and Nga Yin
  • Nga Yin explained that there is less time to help her son improve his social-emotional skills because of the need to catch up on learning.