educationFour in 10 children with autism in England were informally – and therefore illegally – excluded from school during a 12-month period, according to a new survey.

Ambitious about Autism, which carried out the research for its new report Ruled Out: why are children with autism missing out on education?, said that if this figure is applied to all of England’s 70,785 children with autism, it could equate to more than 28,000 illegal exclusions.

Parents and carers of children with autism surveyed for the new report revealed:
• 4 in 10 children (39%) had been subject to informal exclusions. One in 10 parents whose children were illegally excluded said it happened daily  
• 30% of parents reported being asked by schools to keep their child at home, itself a form of illegal exclusion
• 21% said their child with autism had been formally excluded from school
• More than half of parents (51%) had kept their child out of school for fear the school was unable to provide appropriate support. 

Lacking knowledge

Previous research in 2013 by the teaching union NASUWT found that despite the fact 70% of children with autism are in mainstream schools, 60% of teachers in England do not feel they are adequately trained to teach children with autism and 35% of teachers think it has become harder in the last 12 months to access specialist support for children with autism.

Ambitious about Autism’s research echoed this, finding that many schools do not have the right knowledge, skills or resources to support children with autism, which often leads to exclusion procedures that break the law. Typically, this can mean requiring parents to collect their children from school at short notice, refusing to allow children to take part in social activities and school trips, asking parents not to bring their children into school, or placing a child on a part-time timetable.

Schools do have a legal right to formally exclude a child but this should only be used as a last resort, for example to ensure the safety of the child, staff or other pupils. 

To coincide with this research, Ambitious about Autism has launched a campaign, Ruled Out, which looks to address this issue and aims to ensure that:

Every school has access to a specialist autism teacher, to build capacity among school staff and to support children with autism to learn and achieve

Every family of a child with autism knows their rights, and has the resources to help their child get the support they are entitled to at school

Every local authority sets out in its ‘local offer’ the support available in its area to ensure children with autism have access to quality full-time education.

Shocking statistics

Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious about Autism, said it was “shocking” that so many children with autism are missing out on education. “All schools are legally bound to provide quality full-time education to all pupils, including children with autism,” she said. “Asking parents to collect their children early or putting them on part-time hours is against the law and fails to address the underlying need for schools to make reasonable adjustments to include children with autism.

“We know illegal exclusions also affect a child’s family life. Having to collect a child puts intolerable pressure on parents and their working lives; it severely impacts their financial situation and often makes work impossible. We know schools can and do support children with autism to learn, thrive and achieve. All schools need to build their capacity to support children with autism and not use exclusions as a way of managing their special needs.”

Service provider Dimensions is supporting Ambitious about Autism’s campaign. Lisa Hopkins, executive director of practice development at Dimensions, said: “It is vitally important that children who experience autism are included in a school environment where they are given every opportunity to access the best education possible. Only through a stable school environment, in which they are encouraged to learn essential life skills and socialise, will they grow in confidence and knowledge. 

“It is truly shocking to see these statistics and as a partner of this important campaign, Dimensions is keen to see these issues overcome and for children to be given the best chance of a good education by being thoroughly included in the education system. Children should not be missing out on their education in this way.”