A core goal of inclusive education worldwide is to maximize the learning potential of students with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream educational settings. However, little research attention has been paid to SEN children's social and emotional gains from inclusive education compared to their academic performance. This study included social, emotional, and academic variables in a single research design, not only to test their relationships but also to explore the predictive roles of social and emotional factors in academic performance for SEN students. Participants were 515 SEN students in grades 1–6 in mainstream primary schools in Hong Kong. The results showed that the social and emotional competences of children with SEN were significant predictors of their academic performance (p < .001), with emotional competence having the larger impact. Although SEN students' relationships with peers and teachers were not found to be direct significant predictors of academic performance as reported in previous studies; they positively and significantly predicted emotional and social competences of SEN students (p < .001). Implications for establishing a caring campus, as well as developing educational interventions which will increase SEN students' positive emotional experiences and foster and maintain their adaptive social and emotional competences are discussed.[Copyright © Springer].