Parents and well-wishers were devastated when an arson attack on a school catering for special needs in Lancashire caused up to £23,000 in damage costs, wrecking an outdoor classroom and destroying play equipment worth around £2,000. The attack happened over the recent Easter bank holiday weekend and is apparently not the first time the school has been targeted, according to local reports. Parents and local residents are now in the process of fundraising in order to repair the damage and hopefully install CCTV.
In a British society that is becoming less tolerant to 'difference', we should not be too surprised when such attacks occur. But can we simply write them off as 'senseless' acts of vandalism motivated by something relatively innocuous as boredom? This school is not the first time a special needs school has been targeted and arguably it won't be the last. But if this had happened to a synagogue or a mosque, arguably these acts would not be quickly dismissed as senseless acts of vandalism, but something perceived as having a much more sinister motivation. This is why we really need to get the authorities to treat these attacks much more seriously than they arguably do at present. And why local authorities should be doing more protect these schools by providing access to CCTV, without schools needing to get the begging bowl out in order to protect themselves.
Getting a figure on how often these attacks are taking place upon schools catering for special needs isn't easy, but my own research indicates that at least twelve attacks have made local news organisations over recent times. Incidents that include damage to classrooms, equipment and school transport, and in at least one case, the school had to close until the damaged was put right. Again by fundraising.
Certainly, such attacks are not isolated to special needs schools, with vandalism or arson occurring to mainstream schools too. Last year, Scotland's government reported that vandalism to schools across Scotland caused more than £4.5million in damage over a five year period. Across the UK as a whole, arson is also a huge problem. Research released in 2007 by The National Foundation for Educational Research, found that arson attacks across British schools had risen from £49 million in 1995 to £67 million by 2005. What the cost is today, I can't actually put an accurate figure upon at the moment. However, I do know that one incident to a girl's school in my local area caused over £1 million pounds of damage. It is argued that within the UK around 20 schools a week are effected by arson, so it is quite easy to imagine the huge cost such damage is causing.
But the damage caused to schools in general is not just the cost of repairing buildings or of replacing equipment, a cost that is becoming almost impossible for many schools to absorb. It is also about the disruption to a child's education that this causes, and for special needs pupils, such disruption to routine may be especially upsetting in itself, causing anxiety, shock and trauma. But who is causing these attacks and why?
Teenagers and school children themselves often get the blame of committing arson. At present there is no real research that points the finger of blame at other than Britain's disaffected youth. However, while boredom and social frustration get the blame, the research that does exist on why 'arsonists' do what they do, generally cites revenge, fraud, depression and a cry for help, amongst the key motivators. Of course, not all of this relates to arson attacks on school buildings.
But arson is a huge problem across the world, often for the reasons mentioned above, and also committed for political ends. All of us have probably turned on the TV at some point and have seen news coverage of cars and such like being overturned and set alight, or Molotov cocktail's being hurled by protestors of one kind or another. Perhaps we need to keep those thoughts in mind when we hear of schools going up in smoke, particularly special needs schools.
The destruction of school buildings that is occurring daily and almost on an industrial scale within the UK itself, is not something we can simply pin upon the boredom some teenagers may be feeling over a quiet weekend or holiday period, and therefore something simply done for 'kicks'. But in some cases, they may indeed be a cry for help. And in that sense, they may be as 'political' an act as any anti-capitalist protestor hurling a Molotov cocktail would argue that their actions are.
The research that exists on child arsonists suggest that many may indeed come from disturbed or dysfunctional backgrounds. It would not be a surprise that some kids subsequently vent their anger and frustration at what they see as the unfairness of it all, at something that they also perceive to be an additional problem to contend with. Or a place where other kids are treated better than they are.
Since schools are part of the 'establishment' set-up, it's no surprise if some children who feel abandoned and let down by society in some way, target these very same symbols of establishment and authority. This danger is compounded when we toss in the variable of disability into the mix. Whether special needs schools are being particularly targeted because Britain's youth feel that the disabled are receiving 'special' privileges that they or other kids don't get, or are simply being targeted as 'schools' like any other, is an important line of inquiry for us. In a society that is becoming more and more 'disablist' by the day, we need to know why disabled people, children and both adults, are more likely to be target of bullying than the abled-bodied. We need to know why the abled-bodied discriminate against disabled people. We need to know why people commit 'hate crime' against disabled people. And we certainly need to know why 'special needs' schools are being targeted by arsonists and what the authorities are doing to prevent it.
3 - EESC hearing revealed almost a million EU citizens may be deprived of their right to vote in the upcoming European elections as a result of their disability, and many more may face obstacles casting their ballots...
5 - Paul Dodenhoff writes on an interesting parallel between British citizens caught up in policy aimed at slashing Britain's immigration numbers, and Britain's disabled people caught in a similar assault upon slashing numbers of people receiving state welfare...