SEND and Bullying - How are young people with SEND getting on?

The SEND Futures Discovery Phase study is a two-wave feasibility study carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), in collaboration with the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) on behalf of the Department for Education.

The study is informing plans to establish a large-scale longitudinal survey with children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England, exploring wellbeing, peer relationships and levels of independence among young people with SEND in the post-pandemic period.

We know from previous research that some groups of young people are at a greater risk of bullying than others, and that one group that experiences significantly higher than average rates of bullying are children with a learning disability and/or autism

In the first wave of the SEND Futures study (undertaken in spring/summer 2022), surveys were carried out with young people with SEND aged 12-13 and their parent/ carers. 
Data was collected using online questionnaires targeting a nationally representative sample of young people with SEND; and face-to-face interviews with young people with SEND reaching out to groups who are seldom heard in survey research: ‘looked after children’ or otherwise ’children in need’, young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and those eligible for free school meals. The questions were on a range of topics including details of the young person’s needs, the support they received and any unmet needs, the young people’s experiences at school, and their wellbeing and expectations for the future.

The study found that at age 12-13, 72% of young people with SEND were happy with their life as whole and got on well with their peers, although 13% did not feel very happy. Those with autism and with social, emotional and mental health difficulties were the most likely to report low levels of happiness with their life. Those in a special school or Alternative Provision were more likely to be reported by their parent/ carers as getting on well with peers than those in mainstream schools. 

To measure the prevalence of bullying, the young people were asked a series of questions shown below about different types of experiences they may have had over the last 12 months:

questions asked in the survey

Here are the key findings of the study relating to the experiences of bullying of young people with SEND:

  • Nearly two thirds (63%) reported they had experienced at least one of the types of bullying behaviours asked about in the survey during the last year. 
  • 85% of parent/ carers whose child reported bullying were aware of their child’s experience.
bullying and relationships survey results
  • The most common experience of bullying was name-calling, reported by nearly half (47%) of the young people surveyed, while over a third (35%) reported being threatened with violence. 
graph of the prevalence of types of bullying
  • Young people with autism or social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties were more likely (71%) to report having experienced bullying than those with other SEND needs.
  • Having experienced bullying in the last year was associated with lower levels of wellbeing – 17% of young people who reported being bullied reported being unhappy with their life as a whole compared with 6% of those who had not experienced bullying. 

If you’d like to find out more about SEND and bullying, please see our resources, as well as our online e-learning course on the topic.