Teased and bullied, but SEN pupils' suffering is ignored

24th February 2012 at 00:00
Teachers often fail to act on reports of ill-treatment, say researchers

They are among the most vulnerable pupils, but teachers regularly ignore the teasing and bullying of children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities, researchers have found.

School staff are often unaware of the victimisation that pupils can suffer and fail to act even when ill-treatment is reported, according to a new book by academics from the University of Cambridge.

"There is a large body of persuasive evidence to confirm that bullying. of children with SEN andor disabilities are pervasive and significant problems," the book claims. "There is less evidence of schools developing and implementing effective strategies in order to address these issues.

"Reports also suggest that teachers tend to underestimate, undervalue or discount reports of bullying from pupils with SEN and disabilities."

The researchers started their work following several serious cases of abuse of disabled people, including the case of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick, who died in October 2007 when Ms Pilkington set fire to their car after years of harassment.

The book, Perspectives on Bullying and Difference, which is due to be published next month by the National Children's Bureau, surveys the experiences of parents, carers and young people.

"Children with SEN who had been bullied talked about the situation as if it was an inevitable part of their disability or special need," said Dr Colleen McLaughlin, one of the report's authors and deputy head of the faculty of education at the University of Cambridge.

"When disabled children came forward to report bullying, teachers put the cause down to their disability rather than dealing with the fact they were being bullied."

The study calls for teachers to do more to identify the extent of bullying and to take action to stamp it out. It also says that teachers should help pupils to develop better language skills so that they can more easily report bullying when it occurs.

"Almost every school now has a policy on bullying," Dr McLaughlin said. "Teachers don't just tell children to put up with it. But the practice has not developed in the same way when it comes to children with SEN."

Tactics used in mainstream schools to help children with SEN can exacerbate the problem, the book says. Extra support from teaching assistants and withdrawing the pupils from lessons can stop them forging links with their peers.

The researchers are attempting to raise funds so they can help teachers to become more aware of the issue and develop strategies to prevent it. They have presented their findings to civil servants at the Department for Education.

David Bateson, chairman of the Federation of Leaders in Special Education and principal of Ash Field School and Assistive Technology Assessment Centre in Leicester, said that the problem was true of wider society.

"Unfortunately, children with SEN and disabilities are more liable to be bullied, not just in schools but also in their communities and in the street," he said.

"They can stand out as being different and, sadly, bullies are more likely to carry on this behaviour towards them because the children find it hard to express themselves to let others know about the treatment they are receiving. Headteachers take bullying very seriously, but we know we can always improve."

Scale of bullying

Research cited in Perspectives on Bullying and Difference suggests that bullying may have been experienced by:

83% of young people with learning difficulties;

82% of young people who have a stammer;

39% of children with speech and language difficulties;

30% of children with reading difficulties.

Ofsted's Tellus4 survey in 2010 found that:

25% of children and young people were worried about bullying.

46% said they had been bullied at school.


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