Sally Bercow launches autism campaign

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A campaign to secure greater opportunities for young people with autism was launched by Sally Bercow at the House of Commons on 17 October. Called Finished at School: Where next for young people with autism, it seeks to highlight the problems faced by those with autism when they leave full-time education, and outline ways of helping these young people to live more independent lives and enter the world of work.

According to a report commissioned by the charity Ambitious About Autism, who organised the campaign, fewer than one in four young people with autism access further education. This under-representation in the nation’s colleges is, the report claims, the result of an “overly complex funding system”, ineffective legal rights and a lack of appropriate, autism-specific training for college staff.

While the report did find some examples of good post-16 provision, in many cases young people were having to travel very long distances to attend specialist colleges or were being forced into care homes alongside elderly residents.

Mrs Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, and a recent contestant on Celebrity Big Brother, is the mother of a seven-year-old boy with autism and Parent Patron of Ambitious about Autism. Speaking at the launch event, she expressed concern about the future prospects of people like her son. “Many thousands of young people with autism are currently being written off when they leave school, unable to access further education”, she said.

Luke Dicker, Youth Patron for the charity, echoed Mrs Bercow’s fears, saying that “The education system has come a long way, but there is more to be done to help young people with autism fulfil their potential when they leave school.”

The Finished at School campaign makes a number of recommendations including: a legal right to educational support up to the age of 25 for young disabled people, changes to the funding system to provide more choice and support, and a cross-party focus on outcomes for young people with disabilities and SEN.

The campaign launch, hosted by Robert Buckland MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, also included a presentation by Children’s Minister Sarah Teather.

To see the campaign report, visit:
www.AmbitiousAboutAutism.org.uk/finishedatschool

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