bullying, exclusions & discrimination
Children with special educational needs and disabilities may be more at risk of bullying, or they may become bullies themselves due to the additional pressures they face.
They can also face discrimination, and you may need to fight to ensure your child is included in the full life of their school.
It can be stressful and scary, but we have advice to help you through when things get tough. You’re not alone, and there are things you can do. There are also guidelines and laws to help protect your child so they don’t face unlawful exclusions or discrimination.
Whatever the situation, bullying can be very distressing for children and parents, but there are things you can do to support your child if you think they are being bullied.
The first step is to talk to your child, and the second is to raise it with the school. All schools must have a policy on bullying; it may be part of their Behaviour Policy. For help and advice if your child is being bullied or may be bullying others, you can call Amaze SENDIASS – our helpline for families in Brighton & Hove and East Sussex.
For ideas on what to do about bullying, how and when to approach the school and where to get more help, download our fact sheet ‘Bullied at School’. This fact sheet is aimed at families in Brighton and Hove, but most of the advice will apply wherever you live. (We are currently creating East Sussex versions of all our fact sheets, and will upload the East Sussex version as soon as it is available.) Contact have produced a series of podcasts for parent carers of children SEND who are experiencing bullying at school. They were produced as part of Anti-Bullying Week 2014. Visit Contact’s Youtube channel to see their series of anti-bullying podcasts.
If a fixed term exclusion lasts more than five days, the school has a duty to provide suitable full-time alternative education no later than day six. If the exclusion is permanent the LA should arrange alternative education by day six.
The fact that they have felt it necessary to exclude your child may be a clue that the school is not providing sufficient support with their additional needs, and the school should acknowledge this.
Sometimes it is only when your child faces an exclusion that you yourself realise they have needs that are not being met at school. In either case, this is a time to ask for a meeting, go over your concerns with the school and think what may need to change. Many children with SEND may welcome the chance to have extra time at home. You may need to press the school to look at other ways of dealing with their behaviour. Schools are meant to take all possible steps to avoid the permanent exclusion of children with SEND and this could include re-assessing their needs or requesting assessment for an EHC Plan.
If your child is excluded even for a very short period it can be a very worrying time for parent and child. There are options for appeal, and it’s important to get good advice. Amaze can offer advice and support to parents of children who are excluded, where there is a link between the exclusion and SEND. You can contact us through our helpline, SENDIASS.
Child Law Advice (run by Coram Children’s Legal Centre) has detailed information on school exclusions on their website, and offers a telephone support service where you can speak to experts about education law.
Parents of children with additional needs also sometimes find that schools ask them to collect their child early or that they send their child home whenever there is a problem. Sometimes they suggest that the child only comes to school part-time. The school may describe this as if it is done in the interests of your child. Even though the school does not call this a formal exclusion, it is excluding the child in practice.
Frequent informal exclusions of this kind may be a sign that your child is not getting the support they need and may in fact be illegal. You should raise this with the school. Don’t be afraid to challenge this sort of unofficial exclusion, as your local authority will not support these practices. You can ask Amaze for help and advice about exclusions, or contact the relevant council department:
- School exclusions – Brighton and Hove
- ISEND Education Support, Behaviour and Attendance Service (ESBAS) – East Sussex
To find out more about school exclusions, see your council’s website:
Your child’s rights
The Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) recognises that many disabled people get treated worse in lots of ways just because they are disabled.
The Act states that schools have a duty not to discriminate by treating a disabled pupil less favourably than other pupils because of their disability or something arising from their disability. This applies unless they can show that the less favourable treatment was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such as preserving the health and safety of other pupils.
The Act also makes it a duty to make reasonable adjustments so that a disabled pupil is not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to other pupils. This includes taking reasonable steps to provide aids and equipment.
Putting these two duties together means a school would have to have a lot to prove to justify any discrimination. This applies to everything the school provides as an educational service, as well as admissions and exclusions. The Equality Act applies to all schools, including private schools and academies.
These duties don’t include physical alterations to buildings, although schools and local authorities do have a duty to plan to make the school more physically accessible over time. They must publish this plan and allow parents to read it if they wish.
All schools are required to have a Disability Equality Scheme which states how they are working to ensure disability equality within the school. You can ask to see this.
Making a complaint
If you feel your child may have been discriminated against, the first step is to speak with the head teacher at the school. The school will have a complaints procedure you can follow. If you are still unhappy you can then complain to your LA or the Education Funding Authority, depending on the type of school and nature of the complaint.
You can call our SENDIASS helpline at any point to discuss the situation with an advisor. We cannot provide legal advice, but we can help you understand your child’s rights, the processes involved, and the options available to you.
At any point in this process you may make a claim of discrimination to the SEND first-tier tribunal, but they will normally expect you to have exhausted your options through the school’s complaints procedure first. If you want to make a claim to the tribunal you must do it within 6 months, however.
It is worth noting that the type of remedies available under the Equality Act are often not very strong, e.g. an apology, staff training or perhaps extra tuition. However, it can be effective to politely but firmly raise the issue with the head teacher or governors, mentioning your concerns that they may be in breach of the Equality Act. This may achieve the change you want without an actual claim ever being needed.
The Equality Act also covers further and higher education, as well as providing some protection from discrimination by employers, including in the application and interview process. You can find detailed information about the Equality Act on the website for The Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Alternatively, Possability People offer a Disability Advice service to both Brighton and Hove and East Sussex. Their advisors may be able to offer further advice around disability discrimination and employment.
Our SENDIASS service can also offer information, advice and support both to parent carers and directly to young people aged 14-25 around all SEND-related issues.