Exclusions of pupils with autism rocket in England, new data shows

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A UK charity is calling for urgent action to find out why children with autism are at greater risk of being excluded from school.

Ambitious about Autism says that new data for England, obtained through a Freeedom of Information request, shows that nearly 4,500 pupils with autism were excluded in one year — a 60 per cent increase since 2011. Children with autism are the most at risk group of all special education needs (SEN) pupils with Education Health and Care (EHC) plans to face being sent home from school.

Since 2011, the overall number of pupils excluded from school has risen by 4 per cent with some English regions, such as the South East, recording a fall. But at the same time exclusions of children with autism have increased by between 44 per cent and 100 per cent in English regions.

Although there has been an increase in children with autism in schools, the exclusion rate remains disproportionate to their number. Children with autism account for just over 1 per cent of the school population, but make up 2.5 per cent of all exclusions.

Ambitious about Autism has submitted its findings, which can be downloaded from its website, to the School Exclusions Review — an independent review, commissioned by the Government, which closed on 6 May. The review is expected to report by the end of 2018.

Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism, Jolanta Lasota, said:

Schools are shutting out thousands of children with autism.  

The impact of these exclusions can’t be underestimated — not only do children fall behind academically, but the isolation from their peers creates deep unhappiness, social anxiety and mental health problems.   

Our evidence clearly shows children with autism are disproportionately at risk from exclusion, compared to other pupils. The new School Exclusions review must get to the bottom of what is happening to these children — who have been failed for too long by our education system.

Ambitious about Autism supports several recommendations to tackle the growing rise in autism exclusions. These include:

  • Ensuring Ofsted has the power to thoroughly investigate unlawful exclusions and take appropriate action.
  • All school staff — including teaching assistants and support staff — should be given training in understanding autism.
  • Strengthening the accountability of the system to ensure schools and local authorities are incentivised to support children with autism. For example, examining whether to make schools financially and academically responsible for children they exclude or place in alternative provision.

To mark its 21st anniversary, Ambitious about Autism has launched a new campaign called We need an education to draw attention to the thousands of children with autism being denied an education.

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