Hard blows from the bullies

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Bullying is a high-profile issue these days. Pupils are encouraged to tell and are promised it will get sorted out. And it often is, because the vast majority of allegations simply reflect the natural ebb and flow of friendship groupings. It is not so easy when the pupils have additional support needs. They are the most vulnerable in a school society, yet they can be the hardest to protect.

They look strange, walk a bit oddly and dress in unfashionable, ill-fitting clothes. They stare, because it takes a bit longer to process what they are seeing. They are innocent enough to do whatever they are encouraged to do.

Down's children tend to escape this - they look so very different that other pupils accept and even look after them.

But, no matter how much we try to protect the special pupils, they face daily taunts of mongol, spaz, gay or freak. Integration isn't just a matter of including the pupil on the school roll. It needs an incredible amount of planning to provide the right work, the correct support. Often a care assistant, poorly trained and lowly paid, is in the thick of it.

Sometimes we are asking just too much of pupils, peers and staff. A child with only learning difficulties might well cope - but add in a communication disorder or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and it is almost impossible. These children, who have poor co-ordination and are least able to follow multiple instructions or face difficulties coping in team games, find themselves the laughing stock in PE.

In PSE, they are lumped into lessons about issues - relationships, sex, drugs - that bear little relevance to their lives. And mainstream classes, no matter how differentiated the work is, can be hard going for someone with a short concentration span. Often in classes where behaviour is atrocious anyway, they are frightened by the noise and disorder.

I wish I knew the answer. I think the reality is that there isn't one. We can't protect our pupils as we should. They themselves can do their fair share of causing trouble. There aren't the resources to really tackle it.

Yet for some reason it is considered not politically correct to explain to other pupils what the exact problem is.

Would the other children react better if they knew that John's bad behaviour is because he is angry now he's in foster care? If we taught them how difficult it is to have DCD (developmental co-ordination disorder), or how frustrating (and humiliating sometimes) to be so dyslexic you can't write? Could we explain that, for an ADHD pupil, scribbling through the work to get finished first isn't always the choice?

Special needs children have enough to deal with, without bullying being part of the equation.

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