“You should be nicer to him,’ a schoolmate had once said to me of some awfully ill-favored boy. ‘He has no friends.’ This, I realized with a pang of pity that I can still remember, was only true as long as everybody agreed to it.” Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir Children with special educational needs are more vulnerable to being bullied. They can also be viewed as engaging in bullying behaviour themselves whether intentionally or otherwise. What is bullying? The definition taken from the ‘stopbullying.gov’ website is: “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” It is generally a course of action. Most people would not take the view that one playground shove constitutes an act of bullying. It is also targeted at one child or, at most, a select few. A child who indiscriminately shouts at everyone is not likely to be called a bully although his/her behaviour would still require intervention. Perhaps the most interesting part of the above definition is that it is ‘unwanted behaviour.’ In the workplace if someone calls you ‘Stinky’ and pushes you, that is likely to be unwanted behaviour. Between six year olds the same display may be engaging and welcome interaction. The increase in bullying Bullying, or at least its reporting, has never been so prolific. With the increase in children’s access to social media the impact of bullying can send shockwaves throughout a child’s whole community. Initiatives such as school visits and Anti-Bullying Day are important in addressing that rise. High profile stories such as the case of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd: The Huffington Post have also drawn attention to the tragic outcomes when young people with special needs are mercilessly bullied without effective intervention. Why is it a particular concern for SEN children? Those with communication challenges are particularly at risk of bullying or of being perceived as bullies. Children may struggle to ask for help and, even once the situation has been acknowledged, may face challenges in evidencing the complaint. An inability to understand from a peer’s expression that a line is about to be crossed can mean that overstepping that line becomes a regular occurrence. Whether ‘bullying’ is intentional is dependent upon the individual child’s abilities and their options for self-control. Children with obsessive aspects to their needs may not be able to moderate behaviour easily. For example, the urge to tap Billy twice on the shoulder every time he is passed is much stronger than the appreciation of Billy’s distress at being tapped on the shoulder. What parents can do Raise the issue of vulnerability to bullies or bullying in your children’s Individual Education Plans, Reviews, Parent/teacher conferences, Risk Assessments and other school records so that strategies to prevent your child being the victim or the ‘aggressor’ are in place. Know the school’s bullying policy, in particular the reporting structure. Schools make the policy available on their sites or on request and should ensure that children know who to turn to at school if they have concerns. Deal calmly and immediately with any incidents of concern and make a note of those incidents and the action that you took including time and date. Work with school staff to suggest and agree practical solutions that do not negatively impact on your child’s learning and playing options but that do alleviate the issues that have come to light. Take advantage of legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 and the duty to make reasonable adjustments to do that. If a course of conduct becomes problematic communicate with the school in writing so that there is a record of developments. Use Special Educational Needs solicitors to negotiate with the school if there is a failure to meet the duty of care owed to your child. Involve solicitors who are experienced in working with pupils and schools to resolve disputes at an early stage thus ensuring continuity of education for the child and that strategies are put in place to avoid later complications. Whether it is negotiating an alternative to exclusion or simply ensuring that the school keeps a chart on a child who is exhibiting unwanted behaviour, Tamara Rundle at Setfords Solicitors is able to help. School should be a place where your child is safe and secure. Most of the schools that we deal with would be the first to agree. For further advice, speak to Tamara Rundle here.