Schools have a huge amount of changes to deal with on a yearly, termly and even daily basis. The biggest change this year has been the introduction of the new SEND Code of Practice and the implications of that for the true inclusion into the mainstream classroom of SEND provision. The fresh challenges this brings to teaching and support staff are huge and so it could be easy to forget that this will bring challenges to the pupils as well, whether they have SEND issues or not.
Children with SEND issues are already vulnerable to bullying, whether because they are seen as different or because they have limited or non-normative social skills due to specific difficulties or diagnoses. The additional pressure of increased time within mainstream classrooms may lead to an increase in acting out behaviours associated with an anxiety or even a withdrawal, leading to further isolation within class. Children without SEND issues, but with poor self-esteem or emotional challenges will also be vulnerable to bullying as they will be more likely to become a bully, an experience that can be damaging in different ways.
Both these risk factors should be taken into consideration when you update your anti-bullying policy in light of the new SEND reforms. Each school needs to acknowledge the risks, plan for prevention and monitor the efficacy of any intervention and this needs to address the impact of bullying as well as being bullied. So what can a school do to address bullying, specifically around SEND issues?
Bobbi Elman of Advocate Autism offers some advice that would apply not just to those on the Autism Spectrum, but to any child whose educational needs may lead to them being singled out. She suggests “…forming a peer support group from the older children to support the younger ones and a circle of support for every child with SEN ( aka a circle of friends) from their year group not just their class as this will provide security on the playground and develop a sense of empathy within the whole group.”
The Anti-bullying Alliance is currently running a campaign to address bullying specifically related to SEND issues and has a multitude of resources available for free that schools and parents can access. They have a range of information from cyberbullying to ASD, but two key areas will stand out when re-evaluating your anti-bullying policy. The issues of mental health and sexual bullying will be two areas in which staff might feel uncomfortable and ill-prepared to deal with an incident or situation. The resources that can support staff training in these areas are invaluable and will support whatever strategies you decide are appropriate to include in your own schools policy. Take a look at our previous article, “An essential guide to the new SEND Code of Practice” for further information.
Printed copies of ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ are available here.
The resources available to help with staff training are on the Anti-Bullying Alliance website here.