NCB Statement on BBC Panorama documentary on Life Wirral school

BBC Panorama has revealed instances of appalling abuse of children with special educational needs and disabilities at Life Wirral school in Wallasey, including mockery and verbal and physical abuse of children.

This is sadly very far from the first time such completely unacceptable experiences for children with SEND have been uncovered – and without further action it will not be the last either.

Safeguarding children with disabilities in residential settings” is a report from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel in which the Council for Disabled Children (part of the National Children’s Bureau’s family of specialist networks) was heavily involved. While primarily focused on residential schools, the report made a number of important recommendations that are highly relevant to safeguarding children in non-residential settings such as Life Wirral. These include strengthened joint working between different agencies at local and national level, improved training for staff on appropriate use of physical restraint, and access to independent advocacy for all children with complex health needs and disabilities.

In December 2023 the Government published its response to the report and accepted the vast majority of the recommendations – but the key milestone for children is when the recommendations are fully implemented, not when they are accepted. 

If we want to ensure all children with SEND and their families get the support and services they need, we also need to address the root causes of why these services can’t be accessed in the first place. Proportionally, more children eligible for free school meals and living in deprived areas receive SEND provision, but analyses indicate lowered chances of EHCP support and diagnosis of specific conditions in the same areas. This has lifelong consequences for these children. NCB have led development of a consensus statement on how we can decrease the number of children growing up in poverty, which will massively help and improve the SEND support in the same areas as a natural consequence.

As noted on the programme, we also need to see a more inclusive approach within mainstream education for children with SEND. The Special Educational Consortium (another NCB family member) has recently published a Manifesto setting out how the next Government should take forward this agenda.

Amanda Allard, Director of the Council for Disabled Children and Strategic Director for Practice and Programmes at NCB, said:

"I am alarmed and disgusted by the findings of the Panorama documentary, which shows countless instances of unsafe and abusive practice by staff who should be providing care and education to the children. This demonstrates a categorical failure of leadership in the school but this will not be the last time disabled children are dehumanised and harmed if we do not act now.

“At the Council for Disabled Children, we will continue to work with national government and key stakeholders to ensure all disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs have safe access to high-quality education, addressing this through the key priorities for improvement to safeguarding disabled children as outlined in the major report 'Safeguarding children with disabilities in residential settings'.

“As ever with NCB, we will also continue to work to address the wider systemic issues that make life so much harder for children with SEND and their families, including leading campaigning against child poverty and encouraging a much more inclusive culture and approach within the education system. “

Strategic Advisor to NCB Dame Christine Lenehan, who appeared on the Panorama programme to comment on the footage, said:

“I was shocked to see glaring instances of unsafe practice with a complete lack of respect for children by the staff who they should be able to rely on for their care and education. It represents an absolute failure of leadership in the school.

“These children need to feel supported, calm and able to progress yet we have seen the very opposite of that in this footage. While some private schools do provide a good environment for children with special educational needs and disabilities, more should be in their own communities attending their local schools while getting the support they need."