Autism and Exclusions
Sarah-Jane Critchley and Aaron Yorke had the difficult task of getting people away from their lunch and into a seminar on exclusion at today’s National Autistic Society Professionals Conference.Educators have been gathering anecdotal evidence of rising exclusion rates, and this seminar gave us the concrete data to realise we had been right all along. With the acknowledgement of the issue from the House of Commons Education Committee and their paper on Forgotten Children, it is plain to see that the reduction in early intervention and support has led to increases in exclusion across the board. The number of autistic students in mainstream education has been steadily rising but Ambitious About Autism’s We Need an Education campaign has clarified that learners with autism are very much over-represented in the group of young people excluded from their education. Critchley and Yorke (who openly discusses his school experiences and the impact of being excluded himself) provide the eye-watering statistics that almost 2/3 exclusions involve students in Years 9/10/11, thus damaging their exam prospects and future life chances, not to forget the psychological impact that can extend years into their future. Learners with mental health needs are four times more likely excluded, and being excluded is likely to result in students experiencing deterioration in their mental health. Boys are three times more likely to be excluded; those in receipt of Free School Meals – four times ,and those with an Education, Health & Care (EHC) plan, six times.Interesting figures, especially when the Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) Code of Practice emphasised the commitment to inclusive education and the removal of barriers to learning. As Autism practitioners around the room, we could all agree that persistent disruptive behaviour (the most common reason cited for exclusion) can often be the result of unmet need. For autistic students, this can often linked to anxiety and stress, making their whole school experience far from engaging.
Critchley & Yorke remind us that the SEND Code of Practice exists in an idealistic bubble – the Code expects schools to have access to a wealth of support in order to extend best practice, but in reality their capacity to skill up staff has been vastly reduced in recent years, and for learners with autism, that ‘one trusted adult, usually a teaching assistant’ is no longer there.