Autistic children ‘unlawfully excluded’ from school

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Three charities have teamed up to produce a study on the issues autistic pupils face in Scottish schools

25th September 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Scores of autistic children are being subjected to unlawful exclusions from the classroom.

More than a third (34%) of parents responding to a survey on the experiences of autistic children who have missed school said that their children had been unlawfully excluded in the last two years – with almost a quarter (22%) saying this happened multiple times a week.

An unlawful exclusion is when a school sends a child home without using the formal exclusion process, meaning monitoring and support systems are bypassed. Scottish Government guidance is clear on its position that unlawful exclusions should not happen – yet research by Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism shows that they happen regularly to autistic children across Scotland.

Conducted as part of the charities’ Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report, the survey of 1,417 parents and carers of autistic children also revealed that 13% of respondents said their child had been formally excluded from school, with 72% feeling that school staff having a better understanding of their child’s autism could have helped their child.

Pamela’s son, Kyle, is autistic. She said: “Kyle is only six but he’s already at his second school. The first school treated him like he had an infectious disease. He was left in a room by himself all day, away from the lesson and his friends. One day he came home and told me he was meant to be alone. It was heart breaking.

“When I complained, the school suggested that he should only do half days, which is a form of unlawful exclusion. This put a lot of pressure on me as a working parent, and it was a relief when I found him a place in a school where staff actually understand autism and want to ensure autistic children receive an education.”

Now the three charities are calling for Scottish Government to work with local education authorities and education professionals to address the barriers to autistic children accessing a fulfilling education - and put an end to the use of unlawful exclusions.

Amy Woodhouse, head of policy, projects and participation at Children in Scotland, said: “Parents of autistic children in every local authority in Scotland shared the impact on their children of missing out on their education. This is not an isolated problem as it is occurring across the country, to children of all ages, in both special and mainstream provision. Autistic children are not receiving the education they deserve and are entitled to.”

Carla Manini Rowden, education rights manager at the National Autistic Society Scotland, said: “Sending a child home without formally excluding them is against the law, yet it keeps happening to the families we support and it is having a devastating impact on the education and wellbeing of children. We believe that Scottish Government must take action now and work with local authorities and education professionals to end the use of unlawful exclusions.”

Charlene Tait, deputy chief executive at Scottish Autism, said: “When a child is excluded from school, it is not only detrimental to their education but it also affects their social development as they are often left getting little, if any, quality time interacting with other children.

“There is also a huge socio-economic impact on the family, as too often parents tell us that they are stressed, unable to spend quality time with other children and, in many cases, have had to stop working.”

The Not Included, Not Engaged Not Involved report sets out nine calls to action that the charities believe would make significant improvements to the educational experiences of autistic children.

These include stopping the use of unlawful exclusions and inappropriate use of part-time timetables, improving the availability of specialist teachers, reviewing the availability of appropriate placements for autistic children, and enhancing programmes of initial teacher training and continual professional development to improve understanding of autism.