CBF Statement on Undercover School: Cruelty in the Classroom Documentary

Yesterday (17th June 2024), the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme “Undercover school: cruelty in the classroom”. Undercover filming by reporter Sasha Hinde showed pupils at a school for children with special educational needs being verbally and physically abused.

Staff used discriminatory and offensive language to describe the children and they were placed in headlocks and wrestled to the ground. Staff boasted about assaulting children under the guise of physical intervention, and then falsifying records to cover it up.

The school, Life Wiral, charged the local authority between £50,000-£150,000 a year per child.

The BBC has reported that Wirral Council were made aware of concerns about the school in February 2023. A child, supported by an advocate had raised their concerns to the authorities about the staff at Life Wirral “I will never set foot in Life school again. Because of peer on peer abuse I witnessed, teacher on student abuse, physical restraints – police style. Lack of understanding about disabilities, staff saying incidents are not as bad as described.”

Following an emergency investigation in response to concerns, Ofsted visited the school and rated it as “good” in December 2023.

In response to the programme, Viv Cooper, CEO of the CBF said:

Our thoughts are with the children, young people and their families who were featured in the Panorama documentary. The culture of abuse, bullying and discrimination in the school will have caused significant harm to the children and young people and it is important that they and their families receive the support that they need. 

Those responsible must be held accountable for their actions.

Whilst the actions of those involved were inexcusable there have been a number of schools where there have been serious concerns about abuse and the inappropriate use of restraint involving pupils with special educational needs. This points to systemic failures to safeguard children from harm.

There are clear lessons to be learned from the failure to identify and act upon the information from children, advocates and whistleblowers who all reported serious concerns about the school. This programme also raises important concerns about the experience and knowledge required to establish and lead a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities in the independent sector.

An independent review is needed to address the systemic failures highlighted by the Panorama documentary.  It is important that the next government prioritises the safety of children and young people with special educational needs and takes action to ensure that school is a safe place for every child.


The programme can be viewed here.

BBC coverage of the documentary is available here.

Family Support Service

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in the Panorama programme, you can call the CBF Family Support Service on 0300 666 0126 or email us at

We offer information about challenging behaviour to anyone who provides support to a child, young person or adult with a severe learning disability. We can also signpost you to other specialist organisations and sources of information.

We are open at the following times:

Monday – Thursday: 9am – 5pm
Friday: 9am – 3pm

Please note we are a small support service so you may not be able to get support straight away. We will support families with urgent concerns as a priority.

Professionals are also welcome to contact the CBF.

If you are concerned about your family member who does not have a severe learning disability please click here for information about other organisations who provide information and advice.