More than a third of parents of autistic pupils in Scotland say their child has been unlawfully excluded from school in the past two years – with almost a quarter saying this has happened multiple times a week.
According to the three charities that carried out the research – which was published today and included a survey of over 1,400 parents and carers – the practice is having a “devastating” impact on families
Children are missing out on their education and opportunities to socialise, while parents are being put under huge pressure, and “in many cases” being forced to stop working, they say.
Official Scottish government figures show that exclusions have been declining, with 26.8 exclusions per 1,000 pupils in 2016-17, as compared with 63.5 temporary exclusions per 1,000 pupils a decade earlier.
However, pupils with additional support needs are one of the groups most likely to be excluded from school. In 2016-17, there were 66.6 exclusions per 1,000 pupils with additional support needs, compared with 13.4 exclusions per 1,000 pupils with no ASN.
An “unlawful” exclusion is when a school sends a child home without using the formal exclusion process, meaning monitoring and support systems are bypassed.
The Scottish government says all exclusions from school must be recorded – yet the new report out today shows that unlawful exclusions are happening to autistic children in every local authority.
The research also shows that autistic children are missing out on their education through the inappropriate use of part-time timetables.
Autistic pupils unlawfully excluded
The survey shows that 28 per cent of families had experience of their autistic child being placed on a part-time timetable in the past two years and 85 per cent said their autistic child did not receive support to catch up on work they had missed when out of school.
Around three-quarters of parents wanted school staff to have a better understanding of how their child’s autism affects them, including their communication needs.
Now Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism are calling for the Scottish government to address the barriers to autistic children accessing a fulfilling education and, in particular, to stop the use of unlawful exclusions.
They also want the availability of specialist teachers to be improved, an increase in the availability of appropriate placements for autistic children and enhanced programmes of initial teacher training and CPD to improve teachers’ understanding of autism.
Amy Woodhouse, head of policy, projects and participation at Children in Scotland, said the survey had revealed that autistic children in every local authority in Scotland were missing out on their education.
She added: “This is not an isolated problem as it is occurring across the country, to children of all ages, in both special and mainstream provision. Autistic children are not receiving the education they deserve and are entitled to.”
Carla Manini Rowden, education rights manager at the National Autistic Society Scotland, said informal exclusions were having a devastating impact on families and children.
She added: “Sending a child home without formally excluding them is against the law, yet it keeps happening to the families we support. We believe that the Scottish government must take action now and work with local authorities and education professionals to end the use of unlawful exclusions.”
Charlene Tait, deputy chief executive officer at Scottish Autism, said: “When a child is excluded from school, it is not only detrimental to their education but it also affects their social development as they are often left getting little, if any, quality time interacting with other children.
"There is also a huge socioeconomic impact on the family, as too often parents tell us that they are stressed, unable to spend quality time with other children and, in many cases, have had to stop working. As a charity committed to improving the quality of life for autistic people and their families across Scotland, we are pleased to be part of this report.“
A Scottish government spokesman said the government welcomed the “important work” carried out by the charities highlighting the educational experience of autistic children. The spokesman said the government was working with councils to improve consistency of support across the country.
He added that refreshed guidance on school exclusions had a renewed focus on prevention, early intervention and response to individuals.
“The guidance sets out clearly that there are additional factors that need to be considered when a child or young person has an additional support need and that all exclusions from school must be formally recorded,” he said.