Every year, around 15,000 children in the UK are born with a disfigurement, and many more children acquire a disfigurement during their childhood

In School and Education

My nickname at school was ‘scarface’. I couldn’t stop it, so I tried to ‘own’ it, I guess. I seemed to think it worked at the time, but I can’t deny it hasn’t affected me throughout my life.

Every year, around 15,000 children in the UK are born with a disfigurement, and many more children acquire a disfigurement during their childhood. 86,000 are estimated to have a disfigurement, one in 124 in the under-16 school population. Whilst a ‘severe disfigurement’ is classed as a disability in the Equality Act 2010, and schools therefore have responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty and other legislation, it is important to note that the presence of a disfiguring condition does not mean that the child has any learning difficulty or cognitive impairment nor, very often, any physical impairments either. The discrimination they face arises through other people’s attitudes and behaviours including teachers’ lower expectations because, for complex reasons, they find it hard to envisage a successful and happy future for a child with a disfigurement.

Two thirds (62.6%) of respondents to our survey were living with their disfigurement by the time they went to primary school, up to the age of eleven. Of those, almost half (49.5%) said that they experienced bullying that targeted their appearance. We asked respondents how effectively the school dealt with the bullying:

inschoolandeducation01Slightly more respondents (66.2%) were living with a disfigurement by the time they reached secondary school, between the ages of eleven and sixteen, and slightly more than half (50.4%) experienced bullying that targeted their appearance. Of these 50.4%:

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Respondents to our survey came from a wide spectrum of age ranges; further analysis of the answers to questions about school bullying do not reveal any significant improvement for younger respondents. (NB: The sample sizes in the 16-21 year old and 22-29 year old age groups are not big enough to be statistically significant, but are included here as an indicator.)

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Based on the same samples, both age groups reported significantly more positive responses to how the school dealt with instances of bullying, and perceptions of support from the school were more than 25% for both age groups in both school categories. This suggests some progress from schools in recent years, possibly thanks to organisations such as the Anti Bullying Alliance and its member organisations of which Changing Faces is one.

This includes both Anti Bullying Week to which Changing Faces contributes each November, and also pro-inclusion endeavours, which are not straightforward, where Changing Faces focuses on increasing teachers’ and Ofsted’s expertise. However, when asked to rate schools’ abilities to deal with bullying today on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘not at all confident’ and 10 being ‘very confident’, the average score was just 3.8.

Thus, although there is some evidence of improvement from respondent cohorts who were most recently of school age, there is a significant perception amongst all respondents that a child with a disfigurement would be more likely to experience bullying today than when they were at school. 76.5% said they would expect bullying to be more likely, and 23.3% less likely. This may be because of the greatly increased media pro le of bullying particularly relating to bullying on social media which has been reported as leading to self-harm and suicide.

Four out of ten (41.6%) of respondents said they felt their appearance affected how well they did at school, including in exams, and 43% said it had an impact on their ambition or aspiration in relation to college or university. More than a fifth (22.3%) of respondents said that their appearance a ected their decision on moving into further or higher education.

Whilst figures for primary and secondary school are similar, bullying appears to be much less commonplace in further and higher education, with 14.9% reporting that they experienced bullying that targeted their appearance. But whilst a marked improvement on the 1 in 2 figure in school, 1 in 7 is still alarmingly high.

Recommendations

1a Schools, colleges and universities must ensure that disfigurement is included in their anti-bullying and equality policies, and have robust, measurable processes in place to respond effectively to allegations of bullying and mistreatment. They must comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty and Equality Act, which should lead to clear positive perceptions of people with disfigurements as part of both school and wider communities.

1b Teachers and all school staff should receive face equality training to build their knowledge, skills and confidence to ensure that all appearance prejudice is responded to and addressed, and discrimination is stamped out.

1c Face equality should be included in the school curriculum, and young people should be taught that people with disfigurements should be treated the same as everyone else. This should include teaching that people with disfigurements can live full, happy and fulfilled lives.

1d Teacher training providers must ensure that all initial teacher education includes content and guidance on bullying that targets appearance and creating inclusive educational settings which respect face equality.

1e Further and higher education agencies must work with schools to tackle the inequality of opportunity for people who have a disfigurement, and the lack of aspiration this often causes.

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