Each November, the Anti-Bullying Alliance, hosted by the National Children’s Bureau, coordinates Anti-Bullying Week in schools and communities across England. This year we are calling on children, teachers, parents and carers to work together to stop the bullying of disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN).
Anti-Bullying Week provides us with an opportunity to talk openly about the effects of bullying on the lives of children and young people and the ways we can take action to stop it. The best schools are rarely those that say “we have no bullying here”; rather, they are the schools that take positive steps to prevent bullying for all pupils; they are the ones that take quick and effective action when it happens. They recognise that some young people are more vulnerable to bullying than others and they provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for all pupils
The latest research has found that disabled primary school pupils are twice as likely as other pupils to suffer from persistent bullying, and reports suggest that 8 out of 10 young people with learning difficulties experience bullying at school. We also know that over 90% of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome report that there child has been bullied. This is not acceptable, and this being Anti-Bullying Week, we have an opportunity to share the experiences of these young people and take collective action to stop bullying.
Our aims for the week are:
- To stop the bullying of disabled children and those with special educational needs by equipping schools, colleges and youth services leaders with resources to encourage youth-led anti-bullying initiatives that foster inclusive attitudes amongst children and young people.
- To educate those who support and work with children to recognise those who may be particularly vulnerable to bullying – encouraging an inclusive approach to all anti-bullying education.
- To ensure that the school and wider community understand that the use of any discriminatory language is wrong and will not be tolerated. This includes challenging disablist language.
Disabled children and those with special educational needs may have certain characteristics that make them more vulnerable to bullying. These include low self-esteem and a tendency to internalise problems; differences in physical attributes; shyness and submissiveness; language and communication difficulties and inappropriate social behaviour. It may also be the case that disabled children are absent from school more than their peers and may spent extra time with support staff – both factors that make forming friendships difficult, increasing their likelihood of being bullied.
However, practices within some schools can exasperate the situation for disabled young people and make it more difficult for them to form friendships and socialise with the peer group. These include overprotecting disabled pupils, teaching them away from other pupils in ‘special’ classes and not adapting the physical environment so they can take part in the same activities as their peers.
We know from research that schools that emphasise ‘cohesion’, promote peer friendships and ‘caring’ staff attitudes are less likely to have bullying behaviour.
Classrooms in which young people are encouraged to be willing to play and ‘hang out with’ disabled young people are those that report the least bullying.
Acceptance (particularly in non-classroom and playground settings) by large numbers of peers (numerous ‘bystanders’ rather than a few good friends) is also a ‘protective factor’.
Schools have a responsibility to focus on social issues; to teach social and communication skills; and to foster the kinds of interactions between disabled young people and those with special educational needs and their mainstream peers that will make bullying less likely to happen or to be tolerated. There is also some evidence that actively teaching disability awareness and helping young people to understand and empathise with disabled peers can be productive.
We know that vital to the success of tackling all forms of bullying is working with children and young people, parents and carers. The Anti-Bullyilng Alliance has produced a range of resources to support schools as they take part in Anti-Bullying Week – but we also want to make sure that this becomes part of a wider initiative to create safe environments where all children and young people can learn and thrive without fear of bullying.
A range of resources are available to support schools in hosting activities for Anti-Bullying Week, and the official campaign pack is free to download online, offering ideas for activities as well as links to further information and support to help tackle bullying.
To find out more about the Anti-Bullying Alliance, find Anti-Bullying Week 2014 resources, or to access our free training please visit our website www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk.
For more information, please contact the media office on 020 7843 6045/47. Out of hours mobile: 07721 097 033.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) is a unique coalition of over 100 members from the voluntary, public and private sectors, who work together to reduce bullying and create safer environments in which children and young people can live, grow, play and learn. ABA is hosted by the National Children’s Bureau.