A 2011 survey estimated that over 16,000 people aged 11-15 are either frequently absent from school, or are home educated because of bullying. The problem of bullying is still clearly a significant one, with many parents choosing to withdraw their children from the school system out of concerns for their safety, or because they feel that bullies are causing their child’s education to suffer. But should the victims of bullying be regarded as having special educational needs?
As the old cliché goes, children can be cruel. They can victimise their peers for numerous reasons: they look different, they are too clever, or they aren’t clever enough, they wear glasses, they have a disability, they are a different race or religion, they wear the wrong kind of trainers, or their parents drive the wrong sort of car. The list goes on and on…
So let’s imagine for a moment that being the victim of persistent bullying was classified as a special educational need. For children outside of the school system this would mean very little, as home educators are not generally entitled to any financial support from local authorities. However, for children still in the school system this could mean access to funding, which the government are hoping by 2014 will be controlled by individual parents to allocate how they feel will best suit the needs of their individual children.
Funding could be spent in a variety of ways. Counselling, for example, or one-to-one tutoring could be provided. Twilight sessions, normally reserved for excluded pupils, could be used to help students catch up on missed work; especially useful for reintegrating school refusers back into the classroom.
Identifying bullied children as having special educational needs means that teachers would have to demonstrate provision for them in their lesson plans. Similarly, schools would have to prove that their needs were being met, whether this is keeping them safe from physical harm or providing an alternative curriculum that allows them to thrive. It would also mean the emphasis was placed firmly on the well-being and recovery of the victim, rather than the bully.
Of course, in reality identifying a bullied child as having special educational needs could simply draw more attention to their status as a victim, making it impossible for them to ever break free of that label. Moreover, it may create a stigma where children become reluctant to admit to being bullied, for fear of being classified as having special needs. It also fails to tackle the actual root of the problem – the harmful behaviour of the bullies themselves.
In fact, research has shown that the most effective way of tackling bullying in schools is a swift, unified and consistent approach. In practical terms, this means schools and education authorities must refuse to tolerate bullying of any sort. Rather than create a culture of victimhood, it is imperative that they ensure a rigorous and robust anti-bullying policy is implemented, allowing both the victims and the bullies themselves to embrace genuine change and move forward.