Children with special educational needs are more at risk of bullying. Sometimes they may be more likely to bully others too.
Parents may find that their child suffers low level bullying that slips below the teachers’ radar and when their child eventually retaliates they are seen as the problem. Bullying is very distressing for children and parents, but there are things you can do to support your child if you think they are being bullied. The first step is to talk to your child, and the second is to raise it with the school. All schools must have a policy on bullying; it may be part of their Behaviour Policy. For help and advice if your child is being bullied you can call the Amaze helpline. For ideas on what to do about bullying, how and when to approach the school and where to get more help, download our fact sheet ‘Bullied at School’. You can also download useful council leaflets Safe from Bullying: Supporting Your Child or Tips for schools on dealing with bullying.
Contact a Family have produced a series of podcasts for parent carers of children SEND who are experiencing bullying at school. They were produced as part of Anti-Bullying Week 2014. Visit Contact a Family’s Youtube channel to see their series of anti-bullying podcasts.
Children with special educational needs or disabilities are at extra risk of being excluded at some point in their school life. Exclusions can be fixed term (for a specific number of days) or permanent. The school must write to tell you that your child has been excluded, why and for how long. And they should invite you and your child to a re-integration meeting when they return to school.
If your child has special needs, the school should recognise that the fact they have excluded a pupil is a clue that the support they are currently giving that child may not be meeting their needs. Sometimes it is only when your child faces an exclusion that you realise they have needs that are not being met at school. In either case, this is a time to ask for a meeting, go over your concerns with the school and think what may need to change. Many children with special educational needs may welcome the chance to have extra time at home. You may need to press the school to look at other ways of dealing with their behaviour. Schools are meant to take all possible steps to avoid the permanent exclusion of children with special educational needs and this could include re-assessing their needs or requesting assessment for an EHC Plan
If your child is excluded even for a very short period it is a very worrying time for parent and child. There are options for appeal. You need to get good advice. Amaze can offer advice and support to parents of children who are excluded, where there is a link between the exclusion and special needs. Call the Amaze helpline. The Coram Children’s Legal Centre runs a national exclusions helpline too.
Parents of children with special needs also sometimes find that schools ask them to collect their child early or send them home whenever there is a problem. Sometimes they suggest that the child only comes to school part-time. The school may describe this as if it is done in the interests of your child. Even though the school does not call this a formal exclusion, it is excluding the child in practice.
Frequent informal exclusions of this kind may be a sign that your child is not getting the support they need and may be illegal. You should raise this with the school. The LA have shown some determination to stop local schools from using this sort of unofficial exclusion so don’t be afraid to challenge it. You can ask Amaze for help and advice about exclusions.
The Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, recognises that many disabled people get treated worse in lots of ways just because they are disabled. The Act states that schools have a duty not to discriminate by treating a disabled pupil less favourably than other pupils because of their disability or something arising from their disability. This applies unless they can show that the less favourable treatment was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such as preserving the health and safety of other pupils. The Act also makes it a duty to make reasonable adjustments so that a disabled pupil is not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to other pupils. This includes taking reasonable steps to provide aids and equipment. Putting these two duties together means a school would have to have a lot to prove to justify any discrimination. This applies to everything the school provides as an educational service, also admissions and exclusions.
These duties don’t include physical alterations to buildings, although schools and LAs do have a duty to plan progressively to improve access. And all schools should now have a Disability Equality Scheme which states how they are working to ensure disability equality within the school. You can ask to see this.
If you want to make a claim of discrimination you need to check where to go as this is different if the issue is admissions, exclusions, other school services or an LA service. Bear in mind they will expect you to have first used your rights to complain directly to the school and governing body or LA. It is also worth noting that the type of remedies available under the Equality Act are often not very strong e.g. an apology, staff training or perhaps extra tuition. On the other hand politely but firmly raising the issue with the headteacher or governors and referring to why you feel they may be in breach of the Equality Act may achieve the change you want without an actual claim ever being needed.
The Equality Act also covers further and higher education. And it provides some protection from discrimination by employers including where someone is discriminated against in the application and interview process. We cannot cover all of this here but The Equality and Human Rights Commission has much more detailed information on their website. For initial advice locally you can try the Fed Centre for Independent Living.