Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

New report on supporting siblings in school

Three quarters of siblings who have a brother or sister with a disability, special educational need (SEND) or long-term health condition do not receive any extra support from school.

This is despite research showing that siblings have emotional needs that are overlooked because of the needs of their brother or sister or face stigma due to the lack of understanding about the challenges their families may face.

The report from Sibs charity called “If Only You Knew”, highlights the worries and responsibilities that siblings face and how this impacts on with their own educational progress in school. This includes struggling to complete homework, dealing with friendship issues and not getting enough sleep.

Recommended action for schools includes ensuring that siblings are not taken out of class to support their brother or sister with SEND, setting up a sibling group, ensuring that all teachers understand reasons why homework may be late, and providing extracurricular opportunities within the school premises where possible.

Georgia Pavlopoulou, University College London Researcher and Sibs’ Trustee says: “Although schools are gradually recognising the significant impact of the unprecedented pressures on young people’s lives, the needs and well-being of siblings of disabled children remain unrecognised. Whilst some siblings, just like every other student, are eligible to receive well being support through general safeguarding and pupil support policies, these are rarely targeted specifically for the siblings of disabled children.

“Schools play a crucial role in providing opportunities for acceptance, connections, fun, growth and support overall wellbeing. The Green Paper in 2014 set a momentum for schools to have a clear pathway in offering proactive and reactive support to all pupils by 2025. Sibs’ report emphasises the importance of recognising siblings needs and providing sensitive support tailored to their unique experiences.”

Siblings ask for some understanding from schools

The report is the result of a survey with over 200 children and young people about their experiences of being a sibling to a disabled child and resulting impact this had on their school life. The children and young people responding were aged 5-16.

It also found that 66% of children had told a teacher about their sibling situation and 75% had told a friend or friends about their disabled brother or sister.

Clare Kassa, Chief Executive at Sibs added: “School life is a hugely important part of childhood and for very many siblings, school can be a source of respite from many of the challenges faced at home. But too many siblings face these challenges alone, because their teachers and schools simply do not know about their families. Being a sibling can impact all aspects of a child’s life, especially their educational attainment. For many, being a sibling also brings caring responsibilities.

“Numerous children in our survey told us what they needed was understanding and some basic disability awareness education for their peer group and school communities. As one young sibling told us “Honestly, teachers understanding is all I would need.

“This shouldn’t be too much to ask. We welcome the recent Disability Action Plan published by the Disability Unit which seeks to train professionals to identify sibling young carers in education – we would like this to go a step further and identify ALL siblings of disabled children and young people in school settings.”

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