Launching the SNJ Intersectionality Panel focusing on disability, race, and cultural discrimination in SEND

With Marguerite Haye and Mala Thapar, Leads for the SNJ Intersectionality Panel

*If this is not an issue that affects you personally, please still share this post on social media to reach those for whom it is all too relevant*

*Click here to participate in the SNJ Intersectionality survey*

Special Needs Jungle is today launching a new panel on Race and SEND, called the SNJ Intersectionality Panel

The panel is led by SNJ’s Associate Editor, Marguerite Haye, a former headteacher and parent of a disabled young woman, and Mala Thapar, also the parent of a disabled young person. Marguerite and Mala both understand these issues intimately and have previously written an article on SNJ about the problems faced by people from minority, in particular, Black and Brown communities.

“In a nutshell, intersectionality alerts us to the fact that we cannot understand a single category without appreciation of those around it. As a result, we can more accurately understand why and how treating these categories as separate would fail in producing a holistic understanding of social issues, policies and research.”

British Academy [The term intersectionality was coined by US academic Kimberle Crenshaw]

If you ask anyone in a school if they racially discriminate against black or brown pupils in supporting SEND needs, you would expect them to say a horrified ‘no’. However, ask any young person or parent from an ethnic group and the answer would be quite different. Unconscious or unspoken bias is more difficult to spot than overt racial abuse, but any Black or Brown person will tell you it exists and what it feels like.

Creating the panel

Marguerite and Mala have been busy contacting parents and SEND practitioners from different communities to discuss how discrimination and exclusion of culture (or both), negatively affect children and families when seeking the right support for additional needs.

We are open to hearing representation from all ethnic communities who feel they have experiences and ideas to share about the issues faced by SEND children and young people and what can be done about it. Get in touch here

Marguerite Haye
Marguerite Haye

Please pass this survey link to your relevant members, and if you have someone within your organisation that you feel could make a positive contribution to the panel, please email us

Mala Thapar
Mala Thapar

“I believe that racism is a safeguarding issue as many Black and Asian children and vulnerable adults also are still under threat by this by peers, colleagues and even the education and health systems they find themselves situated. It would be transformational if this was recognised as part of safeguarding and asks the question - if not, who are we truly safeguarding?”

Anonymous contributor.

A two-pronged approach

The first part of this work is urgent - to gather information that illustrates the issue that we can present to the SEND Review panel. This, we have been told, will enable “space” for discussion within the upcoming Green Paper.

To help with this, the Intersectionality Panel team has created a short survey for parents and practitioners. (We know you're fed up of surveys. Unfortunately, we need to know what's happening now and time to input into the SEND Review is short so we don't have many other options. However, this is short and, other than individual details, simply asks for your experiences of discrimination and your opinions about why and what should be done.

The wider work is to work with organisations to eradicate the issues to ensure that Black and Brown SEND children are included in society.

*Click here to participate in the SNJ Intersectionality survey*

This survey is open from now until the end of February, so please don’t delay in completing it and/or sharing it with people you feel may have important views to contribute. If anyone needs a printed version, you can find one here

What do Black and Brown children with SEND experience that’s so different?

The recent Sewell report caused uproar by its findings of no institutional racism, seeming to disregard the experiences of millions of people who daily face racial disparities in how they are treated because of their race and background. Parents from ethnic backgrounds have long reported that their voices are more likely to go unheard, while simultaneously being labelled “hard to reach”. They are not hard to reach, it is a lack of acceptance and inclusion on the part of authorities that one size doesn’t fit all when you are communicating with families. 

Black and Brown people are not one homogeneous group. Different communities have different cultures and different experiences of communicating with authority figures. It is too easy to write someone off as “uncooperative” rather than understand how their approach may differ and take steps to be inclusive of everyone. 

This quote from the EPI report into identifying children with SEND explains something of the issue:

“Ethnicity effects on SEND identification are a complex subject with multiple competing interpretations…. Bias and [rational] parental response to historical bias or the current threat of bias could plausibly form a part of the explanation for the disparities experienced by ethnic groups that have taken the brunt of racial discrimination. Historically and prior to the mainstreaming of most children with SEND following the Warnock Review in 1978, Black Caribbean children were over-identified with SEND and segregated from other children in schools for the ‘educationally subnormal’, to the clear detriment of their educational and broader life outcomes (Coard, 1971).

“Indeed, Strand & Lindsay’s analysis of 2005 data indicated the continued over-representation of Black Caribbean children among those with SEND at the ‘school action plus’ or ‘statemented’ levels at that time (Strand & Lindsay, 2009).”

 EPI report, Identifying children with SEND

“Those who sought to explain the specific impact of ethnicity on a child’s experience of school suggested that, for example, there were some cases where cultural misunderstanding led to behaviour being misinterpreted, unconscious low expectations of some children or – in a small number of cases – “labelling” of pupils. The literature review  commissioned similarly highlights differential treatment in some cases, although this review has not proved or disproved the extent to which this is occurring.

"Both the literature review and others who spoke to this review highlighted how wider factors other than ethnicity may also drive these differences. Children may have a number of overlapping vulnerabilities such as poverty, SEN, unsafe family environments and poor mental health, which could all act as a multiplier effect and contribute to higher rates of exclusion..”

Timpson Review on Exclusions

What does the panel aim to achieve?

We’re not naive enough to think that a single panel on race and SEND can somehow eradicate the issue. What it can do though, is to amplify diverse voices to name the issues that are specific to racial bias in SEND and to reinforce the recommendations or action for local and national government, and for educational institutions, that have been formulated by those within the communities affected.

Action on the issues must promote the understanding of eradicating racism in education, health and care sectors. It could increase the ability to listen to and understand perspectives from different experiences without judgement, misconception or oppression. This point in time, ahead of the SEND Review, is an important opportunity to amplify this particular conversation with the organisations who are doing the work on a daily basis.

Why are we doing this?

SNJ was created to help inform parents about their rights and what was available to them and their children with SEND. We firmly believe that all disabled children, regardless of their background, should be offered the help they need to thrive and the Intersectionality Panel is an extension of this. 

Marguerite has been a key member of the SNJ team for a number of years and this issue is something we have discussed for a long time.  She is the ideal person to lead this work, along with Mala, who has been active for many years with the Anna Kennedy Online charity and other charitable organisations. We hope that by facilitating this Intersectionality Panel we can highlight issues, raise and influence positive change. 

“ We need improved government and local level support for SEND pupils, to break the link between poverty and the clear educational underachievement many children of ethnic minority backgrounds are facing. This is crux of the battle us parents are facing”

Alton Anderson, Black News UK

“Collaboratively we can make these changes that are long overdue, by staying quiet we continue to suffer in silence and the next generation too. We need to unite so that all voices are heard - after all it is about time  "equal" is practised in the equality act"

Mala Thapar

Please pass this survey link to your relevant members, and if you have someone within your organisation that you feel could make a positive contribution to the panel, please email

*Click here to participate in the Intersectionality survey*

You can take the survey below if you can see the embed (best on desktop/laptop), otherwise click the link above to go directly to the survey. You can download a pdf printable survey to be filled in on paper here. To get it back to us, email us for a postal address, or you can scan/photo it and email it.


Coard, B. (1971). How the West Indian child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system: The scandal of the Black child in schools in Britain. London: New Beacon for the Caribbean Education and Community Workers' Association.

Strand, S., & Lindsay, G. (2009). Ethnic disproportionality in special education: Evidence from an English population study. Journal of Special Education, 43(3):174-190.

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