“Multiple schools asked me to take my son home, many times, because they didn’t have the support, knowledge or training to deal with his needs, anxiety or behaviour.”
This quote from a parent features in Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved, a report published in September that shows the unlawful exclusion of autistic children is common in Scotland – and that some children are being excluded as early as preschool.
The three charities behind the report surveyed more than 1,400 parents and carers of autistic children to get a handle on how significant a problem informal exclusions are becoming. The charities – Scottish Autism, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Children in Scotland – have now concluded that the practice, which involves children being sent home because they are not coping or need a cooling-off period, is “widespread”.
Overall, 34 per cent of parents surveyed reported that their child had been unlawfully excluded from school in the past two years – with 22 per cent of those parents saying that this had happened multiple times in a week.
The charities’ research also shows that autistic children are missing out on their education through the inappropriate use of part-time timetables. Some 31 per cent of parents said their child had been placed on a part-time timetable in the past two years, with more than half of these children being on a reduced timetable for more than six months.
There were 800 responses to two questions about the impact on children and families when pupils were out of school, with some answers running to several pages. Parents talked about not being able to hold down jobs, and suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, as well as their children falling behind at school and their mental health deteriorating.
These responses amount to “800 different ways to break your heart”, says Charlene Tait, acting chief executive of Scottish Autism.
The report calls for informal exclusions to end; for all types of absence to be recorded accurately; for the number of additional support needs (ASN) teachers to be restored to 2010 levels or higher; for teachers to receive more training and CPD about autism; and for an increase in the number of specialist places, so that decisions about school placements are “based on individual needs, rather than on what resources are available”.
A spokesman for the Scottish government says it welcomes the “important work” carried out by the charities in highlighting the educational experiences of autistic children. He adds that the government is working with councils to improve consistency of support across the country.
Pointing to refreshed guidance on school exclusions with a renewed focus on prevention, early intervention and response to individuals, the spokesman says: “The guidance sets out clearly that there are additional factors that need to be considered when a child or young person has ASN and that all exclusions from school must be formally recorded.”