Special-needs system fails to give autistic children what they need, survey finds

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Fewer than a quarter of parents with children on the autism spectrum are satisfied with the new system for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), a survey has found.

The poll of almost 1,500 parents, conducted by the National Autistic Society, reveals that these families are struggling to access the correct support.

Only 23 per cent of those who had been through the new process of applying for statutory support were satisfied with it. By contrast, almost half – 48 per cent – were dissatisfied.

Many said that they found the process stressful, and that it took longer than the 20-week legal limit. Fewer than four in 10 found it easy to access information about the support available for children on the autism spectrum.

However, once parents had been given an education health and care (EHC) plan – which replaced the statement of special educational needs last year – they were generally satisfied with it.

Approximately 120,000 school-aged children in England are on the autism spectrum, most of whom are in mainstream schools. This makes it the most common primary need among pupils with SEND.

The National Autistic Society says that many of these children are reliant on the special-needs system to provide them with the support they need to progress through school.

It has called on the government to carry out a review of local authorities’ implementation of the new system. The government’s own figures show that parents are finding it harder to achieve support under the new system: the number of statements and EHC plans issued in 2014 are lower than in previous years.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Far too many parents are still having to fight tooth and nail for the right support for their children, often facing long and incredibly stressful delays.

“Every day a child spends without the right education reduces their potential to succeed in life.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have introduced the biggest reforms to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) system in a generation to ensure that support is focused on needs and aspirations, enabling all young people, including those with autism, to achieve better outcomes in education and adult life.

“This report shows that, once implemented, our reforms are making life better for families of children with autism, with those who have a new Education Health and Care (EHC) plan significantly more satisfied than those without. We have given £70 million to councils in 2014-15 to help them plan and implement our reforms, as well as giving £77 million between 2014 and 2016 to pay for the additional starting costs they may incur – but we will continue to support councils as they successfully implement our reforms.”

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