Disablist bullying – the UN has spoken, but what now?
At the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) we were delighted to see that the United Nations recognises the significantly high levels of bullying that disabled children and young people and those with SEN experience at schools in the UK.
Research in 2014 by the Institute of Education found that disabled primary school pupils and those with SEN were twice as likely to be bullied as their non-disabled peers. Those with ‘hidden’ impairments seem to be most at risk with eight out of ten children with learning disabilities experiencing bullying and Bancroft (2012) found that unfortunately 63% of young people with autism have been bullied at school.
ABA works on the government funded All Together programme with the primary aim of reducing disablist bullying. When we first started developing the programme, we came across a common phrase from school staff: ‘They wouldn’t bully him/her if only they didn’t…’. It ranged from things like ‘if only they made friends better’ or ‘if only they didn’t chew their sleeve’ or ‘if only they didn’t make that noise’. It was clear the emphasis in responses to bullying of disabled pupils was more about changing the victims’ behaviour than challenging the behaviour of those doing the bullying.
This realisation has changed the way we work. We started to introduce a ‘social model’ approach to anti-bullying strategies. This strategy says that responses to bullying should never focus primarily on changing the behaviour of the child experiencing the bullying and that schools should ask themselves ‘what are we currently doing as a whole school that puts children at a greater risk of being bullied?’ – this approach combined with a whole-school, senior leadership-led approach to anti-bullying has started to see really positive results.
The reason a person is bullied is never down to their characteristic. Someone isn’t bullied ‘because they are a disabled person’ they are bullied because of the attitude of the perpetrator and a lack of a whole-school approach to dealing with it.
We are delighted to see the focus of the UN on bullying in their recent report about the UK. We hope to work closely with the government to ensure they learn directly from young disabled people and that they look at the success of our All Together programme. We cannot relinquish the pressure on government to focus on the disproportionate number of disabled young people experiencing bullying in schools.
We know young people who experience bullying are more likely to be excluded, leave school without qualifications, experience mental health issues in adulthood, be homeless, be obese, experience and perpetrate domestic violence and not be in a stable relationship. No longer can we accept that bullying is a rite of passage. We must challenge schools, society and government to do more to stop bullying especially for those who experience it most, disabled young people.
This is why we are using Anti-Bullying Week this year to celebrate what makes us all different and all equal. Where young people feel empowered to stand up and say no to bullying and feel they have a right to a safe environment when they go to school and not experience harassment and/or violence. For too long we have been hearing from disabled young people that they feel they should put up with it because they are disabled. We need to send a collective message that this is not the case and no one should have to experience bullying at school.
Anti-Bullying Week 2017 is from Monday 13th November – Friday 17th November 2017 with the theme ‘All Different, All Equal’. Find out how to get involved at www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk. To sign up to become an All Together School, for free, visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/alltogether
Martha Evans, National Coordinator, Anti-Bullying Alliance