Parents are facing exhausting and sometimes years-long battles to get support for autistic children in school, according to a damning new report from the National Autistic Society. The charity says that the education system is simply not working for autistic children in England and is calling on the Government to intervene with its upcoming review of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system, due in the Spring.
The report, which is based on surveys of over 4000 parents, carers, autistic children and young people, in Summer 2021, found:
- A quarter (26%) of parents waited over three years to receive support for their child
- Three quarters (74%) said their child’s school place did not fully meet their needs – this has almost doubled since 2017
- Only one in four parents are satisfied with the special educational needs support their child is receiving
- Less than half of autistic children are happy in school
- 44% feel their child’s special educational needs are not being met in general
- Seven in ten autistic children and young people said school would be better if more teachers understood autism.
There are over 160,000 autistic pupils in schools across England.* Over 70% are in mainstream school, with the rest in specialist education, home educated or out of education altogether. The National Autistic Society sought to understand their experiences and found a deeply troubling picture.
Three quarters of the parents the charity spoke to said that their child’s school place did not fully meet their needs – this has doubled since the charity’s previous education report in 2017. Parents also reported facing huge battles trying to get help, with 57% saying they had to wait more than a year for support and 26% waiting over three years.
On top of all these challenges, the pandemic has had a profound impact on the learning and mental health of autistic children, with 44% of parents saying their autistic child has fallen behind with work and 59% saying their child was more socially isolated than before.
Too many families are driven to expensive and stressful legal action to seek the support their child desperately needs, sometimes having to wait months or even years for anything to happen. Government figures** show that 47% of appeals to the SEND tribunal were for an autistic child. Of SEN appeals being heard by a tribunal, 95% are resolved in favour of the parents.*** The charity’s survey reinforces this picture: two in five parents who were refused an Education Health and Care assessment said they’d appealed to the SEND Tribunal, with the local authority conceding before the hearing in most cases.
Without support, many autistic children are struggling or shut out of education altogether. Government figures show that autistic children are twice as likely to be excluded from school either for a fixed period or permanently as pupils with no special educational needs.**** Exclusions can have a devastating, lifelong impact on an autistic child and should only ever happen as a last resort.
One in five parents responding to the National Autistic Society’s survey said that their child had been informally excluded at least once in the past two years. Informal exclusions include children being sent home and asked not to come in. They are illegal and should not be happening.
Seven in 10 autistic children say that the biggest thing that would make school better is having a teacher who understands autism. Teacher training is part of the Government’s recent autism strategy and the National Autistic Society is also calling for the reinstatement of autism in the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) core content framework.
Call for Action
The National Autistic Society is demanding that the Government intervene with its upcoming SEND Review and create a system that works for autistic children and young people. Without Government action, autistic children will continue to fall behind, with some even being kicked out of school or forced into home-schooling.
Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “The education system simply isn’t working for autistic children and their families, and things have been made even harder by coronavirus.
“Families told us they had to spend months, even years, without the right support, often because there’s no school to meet their needs. And two in five of those who were refused an assessment of their child’s needs said they took legal action. I know from my experience with my own autistic son how gruelling this can be, especially on top of the often-unbearable pressures families already face.
“We won’t accept a world where so many autistic children are falling behind and so many families are being left exhausted and on the edge of crisis. The Government’s upcoming SEND review is an opportunity to change things, to live up to the promise of the 2014 reforms which were never implemented properly. The system is broken, the Government must act.”
The National Autistic Society are calling on Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, to use the SEND review as an opportunity to fix the system once and for all. Join them by signing their petition.
For more information, visit: autism.org.uk
Case Study : Kevin and Andy’s story
Kevin Chapman’s 17-year-old son, Andy, is autistic. Kevin, a former secondary school teacher and now Youtuber, said: “We’ve had issues around support in school and school placements several times over the years, most recently when we moved to a different county.
“Despite Andy having an Education Health and Care plan and attending autism specialist schools since he was 7, he wasn’t offered a place at a specialist school for six months after we arrived in the area. It was a really difficult and stressful time for us all and simply not fair on Andy to miss six month of school, particularly after all the disruption of the pandemic.
“While Andy’s now fairly settled at a specialist school, he has days where he’s too anxious to go into school. And he still doesn’t have access to any of the respite or care services he had before we moved house. The waiting lists are so long that we’re worried that he’ll be too old by the time he’s at the top of the list.”
- For information and guidance about autism and education, visit NAS website.
- For advice and support on educational rights, tribunals or exclusions, contact NAS specialist helplines.
- Read the 2017 Education Report.
- The National Autistic Society recognise mainstream education services who work hard to support and educate autistic children through the Autism Inclusion Award. To find out more or find out if your organisation is eligible for an award here.