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Four in ten children with autism in England were illegally excluded from school during a 12-month period, according to a new survey carried out by the charity Ambitious about Autism. If applied to all of the nearly 80,000 children in England estimated by the Department for Education to have autism, this could equate to more than 28,000 illegal exclusions.

The research shows 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.

While schools do have a legal right to formally exclude a child, this should only be used as a last resort, for example, to ensure the safety of the child, staff or other pupils. If a child is formally excluded, it is vital that decisions are made in partnership with the family and the local authority, focussing on the child’s best interests. A clear plan for the child’s continued education should also be agreed as soon as possible.

Over 500 parents and carers of children with autism responded to an online survey on exclusion, which informed the charity’s report, Ruled Out: why are children with autism missing out on education?

Thirty-nine per cent said their children had been subject to informal – and therefore illegal – exclusions. One in ten parents whose children were illegally excluded said it happened on a daily basis. Nearly a third (30 per cent) of parents reported being asked by schools to keep their child at home, which is a form of illegal exclusion. Over half of parents (51 per cent) reported that they had kept their child out of school because they feared the school was unable to provide appropriate support.

“It is shocking so many children with autism are missing out on education”, said Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism. “All schools are legally bound to provide quality full-time education to all pupils, including children with autism. 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.”

Ms Lasota believes that illegal exclusions can also affect a child’s family life; the pressure of having to collect their child from school can put a strain on parents’ working lives, severely impacting on their financial situation and sometimes making work impossible. She called on all schools “to build their capacity to support children with autism and not use exclusions as a way of managing their special needs.”

The report was presented at a House of Commons reception hosted by Graham Stuart MP on 11 February. Speaking at the event, Dami Benbow, Youth Patron for Ambitious about Autism, said “You can judge a society based on how it treats those who are different…No more children with autism should be disenfranchised from education.”

The charity has launched a 12-month Ruled Out campaign, calling for every school to have access to a specialist autism teacher, to build capacity among school staff and to support children with autism to learn and achieve. It also calls on local authorities to provide effective support and full-time education for all children and young people with autism in their local offers, which detail the SEN support available in each council area.

To read the Ruled Out report and for more information on the campaign, visit:
www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/ruledout

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