More than one in three disabled pupils experience bullying in mainstream school, plus other concerning SEND stats

I've had a peruse through a new publication from the Department for Education, about the experiences of pupils and their parents regarding various aspects of school. It's based on survey responses in Summer 2019 of children at state secondary schools and their parents/carers, called the Omnibus survey of pupils and their parents or carers: wave 6. The 'six' reflects the sixth survey done over terms since 2016. It doesn’t specify, but I’m assuming they are all mainstream schools and not special schools. I wrote about the Wave 1 report here

It’s quite an extensive survey, taking in many aspects of school life measuring the views of children and their parents and then comparing the two to see how the children’s matched up with their parents – although this only happened where parents had given permission for cross-matching.

Because it’s so wide-ranging, and more than a bit confusing in places, I’m just concentrating on results for SEND. But if you have a special interest in children from different racial, gender or free school meal backgrounds, or exams and how parents choose schools, you should take a look at the whole report yourself.  The survey, carried out by Mori/IPSOS has a 95% confidence rating – that is, if it was carried out 100 times with different sets of people each time the results would be similar to the total population results 95 out of 100 times. 

Does your child have SEND?

One of the questions was, 'does your child have SEND?' Parents' answers were based on their understanding of SEND, and not whether the child is registered as having SEND at school. It seems a simple enough question, but some of the answers were surprising, to say the least.

  • 16% of parents/carers said they considered their child has a special educational need or disability.
  • 3% said that they don’t know if their child has SEND.
  • 4% of children whose parents who said they did NOT have SEND, were actually identified on the National Pupil Database (NPD) from returns sent in by schools, as actually needing SEN provision (presumably being on the school’s SEN register).

Let's unpick this. The most recent official SEND statistics, that we reported on earlier this year, state that 15.5% of children and young people in compulsory education (all kinds) have some form of recognised special educational needs. So percentage-wise, this isn't far off the mark, although this survey included college students in FE too.

However, there shouldn't be ANY parents whose children are on a school's SEN register who do not know about it. The SEND Code of Practice says when a special educational need is suspected by the school, they are supposed to speak to the parents and parents should be central to the "Assess, Plan, Do, Review" system of SEN Support. Remember, these comparisons are only possible when both parent and child took the survey and gave approval for the data to be matched up. So the figures could, in actuality, be higher.

What about the 'don't know's? On the face of it, it's perplexing that 3% of parents don't know if their child has additional needs. You might think, 'how can they not know'? But sometimes emerging needs can be subtle to recognise. Often a parent (or even a teacher) is concerned that something isn't "right" but they can't put their finger on it and don't necessarily have the confidence to speak to the school. Or maybe they have and have been fobbed off. If such a parent is reading this, there is no shame in being a questioning parent. Be persistent if you are concerned (and the same goes if you are a teacher inexperienced with SEND, but you think there may be an issue). Put into writing or note form the concerns you have and why. Email with notes of specific incidents or work you have seen and ask for a meeting with the class teacher (or SENCO). This approach is more likely to be taken seriously and it gives you time to set your thoughts down and perhaps do some research online. We have a Get Started page here that will help.

As mentioned, the SEND Code of Practice says the school should speak to the parents when a special educational need is suspected. However, if you are a parent or a teacher who is unsure of what they are looking at, then the child is going to be left without support until their needs become more pronounced and someone raises the issue. This is why in initial teacher training for recognising and acting on emerging needs if vital. Teachers, I urge you to look at the SEND Gateway and Whole School SEND's training.

SEND Mismatch

  • Of the children identified as having SEND by their parents/carers in response to this survey, only two-thirds (64%) are also identified as having SEN according to the official National Pupil Database (NPD).

So does this mean 36% of children, whose parents said their child has additional needs, are not having any kind of SEN support at school? What’s going on here? How is it that a parent can definitely think their child has an SEN but either the school disagrees, or is unaware? What’s happening with communication between parents and school in these cases? This really needs further investigation.

The researchers have added a note to say the school data refers specifically to if children need extra help for SEN, and “some but not all” children defined as having a disability under the Equality Act 2010, as in, ‘...a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’ have additional educational needs. I would disagree with this. Any child's disability is highly likely to impact on their access to education, even if it’s just that they require more days off school. So "some" should actually be "most".

  • 40% of parents/carers who identified their child as having SEND said their child has an EHC plan (that's twice the national average)
  • 8% said their child was currently being assessed or planning to be assessed for a plan. 
  • All children receiving SEN provision and with an EHC plan according to the NPD, were identified as having SEND by their parent/carer in the survey. 
  • Of those who considered their child to have SEND, 7% didn’t know if their child had an EHCP. The actual number of this sample, 22, is clearly very small, but with a 95% confidence index for the whole country, this is quite startling. In Year 11, this figure was 11% - and this may be an indication of parents who don’t know if their teenager still has a plan (as it was done in July-September) after they left school. Again – quite startling.

This isn’t a criticism of any parent – it is the school’s responsibility to ensure parents are involved in supporting their child’s SEND and the LA’s in ensuring they are part of the EHCP process. So how could any parent not be aware if their child has an Education, health and Care Plan? Especially when, for most, it's a knock-down, drag-out fight to get one. From the survey, it appears these families live in the North and the Midlands, and in urban areas. I can only put it down to these parents simply being unaware what an EHCP actually is, which perhaps means their child doesn't have one.

The School SEN Information Report

We ran an article about the School SEN Information Report here. By law, schools must have this on their website but many don’t. But whether they do or not, if parents of children with SEND don’t know about it, it might as well not be there at all. 

  •  Nearly 2 in 5 (36%) parents/carers who consider their child to have SEND don’t know if their child’s school has a SEN information report. 
  • Of the SEND parents/carers who said their child’s school did have an SEN information report (56%), 36% said they have read some or all of it and most found it easy to understand and useful. 

I would urge all parents whose children have SEND to take a few minutes to look at their school's online SEN information report. Does it reflect what you know about the school? And, crucially, does it reflect what the law says it should?

  • Less than a third of parents/carers (29%) who say their child’s school has a SEN information report say they were invited to help produce the report.
  • Just 19% of these parents say their child was invited to help produce the report. Co-production? What’s that? (And bravo to those schools who did – please share your good practice to help others follow suit!)

If you were not asked to help co-produce the SEN Information report, it’s worth asking the school which parents were. If no one was, maybe volunteer to be involved when it’s renewed for the coming year. SEND Parents are always hard-pressed, but if you’re reading this, you are most likely to be someone who has knowledge to share that might support other parents of disabled children in your school who are not as well-informed.

Disabled children and bullying

In the year preceding the survey, 43% of all school pupils (and 40% of their parents) and 28% of all college students (and 26% of their parents), reported being a victim of bullying at least once. 

Pupils said they’d been bullied based on other pupils’ attitudes or assumptions related to their nationality (13%), their gender (12%), their race (10%), their sexual orientation (9%) and their SEND (8%), their religion (7%) and their transgender identity (1%). 30% of bullying was categorised as being related to “something else”.

This is never more needed: 

… from September 2020 Relationships Education will be compulsory for all primary school-aged pupils, Relationships and Sex Education will be compulsory for all secondary school-aged pupils, and Health Education will be compulsory for pupils in all state-funded schools, in England. Schools have the flexibility to start teaching the new subjects by at least the start of the summer term 2021, to enable them to engage effectively with parents. Under the content for respectful relationships, the guidance sets out that pupils should know about the different types of bullying, the impact it has, the responsibility of bystanders and how to get help. 

Omnibus survey of pupils and their parents or carers: wave 6 Research report Summer 2019
  • 37% of pupils with SEND reported being bullied based on other pupils’ attitudes or assumptions towards their SEND at least once in the past year. 
  • SEND pupils were also more likely to say they have experienced other forms of bullying. 
  • In 5% of households where the child has SEND, the pupils with SEND reported that they had been bullied based on attitudes or assumptions towards their SEND, while their parent/carer reported that they had not been bullied for this reason. This mismatch can perhaps be explained by children not telling their parents about bullying. 
  • In 21% of households where the child has SEND, the parent/carer of pupils with SEND said their child had been bullied based on attitudes or assumptions towards their SEND, while the pupil reported that they had not been bullied for this reason. This mismatch? Perhaps where a child doesn’t understand why they are being bullied, to the parent, it’s as clear as day. Or, perhaps a child doesn’t recognise something as bullying, whereas the parent does. It could also be the parent is more sensitive to their child being treated less favourably.

As you can see below, SEND pupils were also more likely to say they have experienced other forms of bullying, except for bullying based on attitudes or assumptions towards transgender identity, where there was no significant difference.

Parental perceptions of what the school would do if their child was bullied are also interesting: Most thought their child’s school would probably or definitely do something about the types of bullying listed. However, parents/carers who said child had ever experienced a type of bullying were more likely to say teachers would 'definitely not' or 'probably not' take action about this type of bullying. What do you think?

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Tania Tirraoro

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