AUTISM SCANDAL

Autistic children excluded illegally from school and left unsupported

Chief Education Officer Laura Mason, Cabinet Secretary John Swinney and SNP education convener Karen Conaghan. 

By Billy Briggs, of the Ferret investigative journalism bureau

Young people with autism are being failed by schools, with children and young people with additional needs unlawfully excluded from education and not offered adequate support, according to a new report.

Needless to say, it is a report which neither West Dunbartonshire’s the Education Services Committee convener, the Dumbarton SNP councillor Karen Conaghan, nor the Chief Education Officer, Laura Mason, will comment on to The Dumbarton Democrat, whose journalists are either boycotted or banned by the local SNP and the Council.

Research published by leading autism advocates shows that more than a third (34 percent) of parents claim their autistic child has been unlawfully excluded in the last two years. Almost a quarter (22 percent) say this has happened multiple times a week.

‘Unlawful’ exclusion – when a school sends a child home without using the formal exclusion process – not only stigmatises and upsets children with additional support needs (ASN), it is claimed, but means they miss out on their education, making it harder for them to achieve meet their academic potential.

The research – Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved – by Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism includes a survey of 1,417 parents and carers of autistic children, and highlights that schools need a better understanding of how to support ASN pupils.

The survey found that 13 percent of autistic children had been formally excluded from school in the last two years and 85 percent had not been given adequate support to catch up on their work.

Parents told researchers their children – one as young as six – had been separated from peers and left alone all day because the school said he could not cope in the class.

Now the three charities are calling for Scottish Government to work with local education authorities and education professionals to address the barriers to autistic children accessing their education.

In an open letter to Education Minister John Swinney they have called for unlawful exclusions to stop and for more specialist teachers to be put in place.

Amy Woodhouse, head of policy at Children in Scotland, said: “Parents of autistic children in every local authority in Scotland shared the impact on their children of missing out on their education. 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, added: “Sending a child home without formally excluding them is against the law, yet it keeps happening to the families we support and it is having a devastating impact on the education and well-being of children.”

Earlier this week, parents and young people from volunteer-run charity Differabled said they felt “mentally broken” by an education system which put barriers in place for those with additional support needs (ASN) and disabilities, particularly older children aiming to get qualifications needed for Higher Education.

In Scotland there is a “presumption” that all children will go to mainstream schools. However, under the 2010 Equality Act all local authorities have a duty to put in place “reasonable adjustments” for ASN pupils.

Parents from Differabled said they’d had to fight for support that their children were legally entitled to, such as support plans, additional time in exams and equal access to work experience.

Though many commended supportive teachers, they claimed there was too often a systemic attitude that university would be outwith the reach of those with additional needs, meaning schools discouraged applications and did not adequately support those aiming for the grades required.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said there had been continued cuts to ASN teachers in recent years, despite a 55 percent increase in the number of children identified with ASN since 2012. Only 1.2 percent have a co-ordinated support plan in place.

“If we are to close the attainment gap for children in Scotland, that means addressing the needs of those with additional support needs (ASN), including autism,” she added. “Urgent changes need to be made on all fronts to give these children the care and support they are entitled to.”

Lynn Welsh, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s head of legal in Scotland, said she was concerned by the testimony of parents and young people, and suggested their stories were “the tip of the iceberg”.

She added: “We know that disabled pupils are less likely to leave school with qualifications than their non-disabled peers,” she added. “We are concerned that one of the reasons why this is happening is to do with the lack of support for their leaning.”

Education lawyer Iain Nisbet, of Cairn Legal, said though the best schools made sure support was in place, he was aware of cases across Scotland where it was lacking.

“I think it’s an over simplification to say it is just resources,” he added. “There is also work to be done in terms of attitude, which the best of schools get right. Unfortunately, some see the disability before seeing the potential.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We want all children and young people to get the support that they need to reach their full learning potential.  The law is clear that education authorities have a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments as well as identifying, providing and reviewing the additional support needs of their pupils, including those with disabilities and autism.”

Ann Davie, of East Dunbartonshire Council, said: “We are committed to helping all our young people realise their full potential – providing appropriate support at all stages of their educational journey.

“Supporting children with additional support needs is a priority and we work closely with parents, teachers and specialist colleagues to plan and evaluate support on an individual and collective basis – using a multi-agency approach.

“Our recent strategic review committed our continued investment in providing first-class educational services and facilities for children and young people who have additional support needs.”

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: “Glasgow has for many years committed a large number of resources to our widening access agenda helping to encourage our young people – regardless of their circumstances or additional support needs – to raise destinations to further and higher education when they leave school.”

West Dunbartonshire Council has nothing to say to The Democrat. We would like to know on the public’s behalf if there are (or have been) any instances similar to those detailed above in our local schools and what steps the Council are taking to improve support for autistic pupils and their families.

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