There are 16,000+ children between the ages of 11 and 15 missing education in England because they have been severely bullied (NatCen Report 2011). This figure is likely to vastly underestimate the true picture owing to the way in which local authorities (LA) record their data. Many LAs do not even record the reason for a child withdrawing from school.
Imagine if 47 schools were sitting empty across the UK all year round. Would there not be an outcry for action? Yet that is what we are talking about for these 16,000+ silent victims.
Every year the lost potential is staggering.
In most instances, the parents of children who are severely bullied make numerous complaints. The child is told to change their behaviour (arrive late, work in the library, not go out at break, eat separately and go home early), and increasingly feels that it is they who are the problem.
When schools do offer support for bullied self-excluding students they will generally find the cheapest way of meeting the education inspection criteria where the self-excluding students applies (e.g. having work sent home, having a teacher assistant available to support or accessing the curriculum online). In some cases such measures work satisfactorily.
Bullied children usually self-exclude from school as a last resort. After a few weeks at home, isolated from peers and with parents who may be threatened with being taken to court for allowing their child to truant, the situation deteriorates further. Many children, as a consequence of the relentless bullying develop conditions such as eating disorders, self-harm, depression, panic attacks and agoraphobia.
So here is my six-point Charter:
1) Special educational needs status granted to severely bullied children too traumatised to attend school. Severely bullied children incapable of attending school should be given special educational needs (SEN) status, alongside other supported groups (Aspergers, autistic, ADHD.
2) Training for school staff and whole school programmes to tackle bullying. There are many pilot schemes in which this has been proven to work. Bullying is anti-social behaviour occurring mostly between students - so students need to be involved in its elimination. Schools need policies that are consistent, usable and accessible, supported by named anti-bullying Coordinators, parent awareness programmes, support groups and an effective PSHE programme.
3) The educational needs of self-excluding bullied children must be met. Each LA must name an officer with responsibility for ensuring either that all alternative provision is of good quality, or that students who have difficulties in accessing mainstream school are provided for. This must then be reported upon within Ofsted’s assessment of the LA’s work. To be clear this would be an interim measure with the aim that every child, when ready, would return to a mainstream school.
4) Alternative provision must be monitored. LA officers must have a responsibility to ensure that any alternative provision offered to a severely bullied self-excluding child be of good quality. If a parent/carer has concerns about this provision and has made a formal complaint, this and the outcome must be recorded in a register. Ofsted should examine this register.
5) Each LA and school must make it clear to parents/carers how the education of children self-excluding from school due to bullying is to be funded. The funding may operate for a fixed period (one year, say) at the end of which teachers from the previous school, the LA, parents, alternative provider staff and the child assess the likelihood of a successful re-integration to a mainstream school. If another year of alternative provision is required then this is negotiated.
6) The DfE needs to state its policy on distance learning. The Department for Education must state its policy on distance learning, particularly with respect to alternative provision. It also needs to say what it seeks from providers of distance education. How children out of school in remote rural areas should be supported requires an answer.
Implementing this Charter would fundamentally address the main issues facing the victims of bullying and provide the social justice they deserve.
James Hockney is a councillor for Waterbeach, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying, and is the Political Liaison Officer for Red Balloon Learner Centre Group.
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