Memorandum submitted by Autism-in-Mind (AIM) (CS 37)

 

 

Executive summary

 

Autism in Mind is a voluntary group that supports families living with autism.  We have concerns about the impact of the proposals in clause 26 of the Children Schools and Families Bill on home-educated children with autism and other disabilities and special educational needs.  The wording of the proposed legislation and supporting documents suggests that inaccurate assumptions are being made about such children.  AIM recommends that detailed consultations with advisory groups should take place before the legislation is finalised in order to avoid a serious adverse impact on a group of children who have already been disadvantaged by the education system.

 

 1.      Autism-in-Mind

 

Autism-in-Mind (AIM) was founded in 2000 and is a support and campaign group that supports parents, carers and families living with autism. We are currently the only voluntary support group specifically supporting parents and carers who are home educating children with disabilities and/or special educational needs.

 

1.1 Since 2003 AIM has been raising awareness regarding the growing number of autistic children being removed from the state education system to be educated at home by their parents and carers. We wrote a paper for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism outlining our concerns about this issue.

 

1.2 AIM has been responding to consultations about Elective Home Education since 2007 and we have also met with the Elective Home Education Team based in Darlington.

 

1.3 The majority of parents who contact AIM or who receive support from us have removed their children from the state school system after long and protracted battles with their LAs, usually having failed to secure support or the correct educational provision for their children.

 

2. Clause 26, Children Schools and Families Bill 

 

AIM believes that clause 26 of the Children Schools and Families Bill is not only flawed but that it is also discriminatory. AIM is particularly concerned with the following from section 19E of clause 26;

            (3)        Arrangements made by an authority under this section shall include arrangements made with a view to their - 

            (a)        holding at least one meeting with the child during the registration period 

            (d)        visiting, at least once in the registration period, the place (or at least one of the places) where education is provided.   

 

3. Reasonable adjustments

 

3.1 The Equalities Impact Assessment concludes that "An adverse impact is unlikely, and on the contrary the policy has the clear potential to have a positive impact by reducing and removing barriers and inequalities that currently exist."

 

AIM believes that the Equalities Impact Assessment failed to adequately consider the impact that an interview might have on an autistic child or a child with a communication disorder. The Equalities Impact Assessment also failed to consider the impact that a home visit could have on an autistic child or child with a disability.

 

3.2.  Parents of autistic children and children with disabilities are extremely concerned that no adjustments have been made to accommodate the often complex and specific needs of their children and believe that in its current form this Bill has the potential  to impact negatively on the emotional well-being of their children.

 

3.3.  Reasonable adjustment must be made regarding interviewing the child and the monitoring of provision. The current provisions are far too tightly framed for a home education situation. It will simply not be possible due to stress and anxiety for some autistic children or children with communication difficulties to be interviewed by a local authority office. Some children will never reach a stage whereby they will be able to communicate effectively with a local authority officer.

 

3.4.  There is no gradual approach to change. Some children will have been out of the state education system for several years. There is currently no obligation for children to be interviewed or seen in their home by local authority officers. To suddenly change the system without an integrated approach to change could result in some children experiencing extreme stress and anxiety. It may not be possible to explain to autistic children and children with communication difficulties why they will now have to be interviewed and why people will be allowed to come into their homes to monitor their education. 

 

3.5 There is no plan to help with the transition from the current position to a situation where interviewing the child and home visits could become mandatory.

 

4. Equalities Impact Assessment

 

AIM has concerns about several of the issues referred to on page 75 of the Equalities Impact Assessment regarding home-educated children with SEN. The quotations are from the EIA.

 

4.1 Availability of support services

 "This identification [identity, age, sex, ethnicity and SEN (if any)], in combination with monitoring visits, is likely to prompt more of these children to access appropriate support services.... We understand that children with SEN who are home educated face significant challenges in accessing services that are usually accessed through schools. The Review recommendations should allow parents to work through the local authority to gain easier access to these services so that their children are not placed at a disadvantage because they are home educated."

 

4.1.1 Parents have reported long waiting lists for speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and educational psychologist support for children with SEN and disabilities in schools.  Often the support comes in the form of assessment and advice only, and therapy or ongoing support, if available at all, is strictly rationed.  Parents who home-educate their children report difficulty accessing these services (and appropriate medical support) not because they are not accessible to home-educated children, but because of their limited availability to all families.

4.1.2  No detail has been given of the nature or anticipated cost of the services referred to.

 

4.2 Statements of special educational need

 "In particular, local authorities have a duty to maintain the statement of SEN in the home, and if local authorities become aware of children with SEN being educated at home about whom they did not previously know, it would be right to expect an improvement in the service offered."

 

There are a significant number of children with an SEN who do not have a statement of special educational needs. Not being able to obtain a statement is one of the main reasons why parents who are now home educating their SEN children have removed them from the state system, and yet it is often assumed that a child with SEN will have a statement.

 

4.2.1 There has been an overall reduction of statements, and increase in SEN without statement: The statistics below are currently displayed on the DCSF Website.

 

Figures for all children with statements of SEN (not just those in schools) show the number of statements maintained by an authority has decreased by over 1,740 from 2008

2.7% of pupils across all schools have statements of SEN, slightly lower than 2008

17.8% of pupils across all schools have SEN but no statement, an increase of 0.6% from 2008.

 

The reduction of statements does not necessarily mean that children are receiving appropriate support in school.

 

4.3  Training for local authority officers

 

"A training package will be developed for local authority officers who will assess and monitor the children. It will be in addition to current CAF level 2 training material, and will be designed to cover equality issues appropriately. There will be particular reference to SEN and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children."

 

AIM is concerned that local authority officers going into the homes of autistic children and children with communication difficulties will not have been appropriately trained.  In addition to their social and communication issues these children often have complex learning difficulties that can be addressed only when one is familiar with the unique profile of the individual child.  Attention has been drawn in recent years to the poor educational provision available to these children in schools.  We are concerned that there is an insufficient pool of expertise available for local authorities to call on with respect to autistic children, and that extensive training of local authority officers will be required.

 

4.3.2 No detail has been given of the nature or anticipated cost of the SEN or disabilities training the Department has in mind.  

 

5. Relationships with local authorities

 

At various times during the Review, emphasis has been placed on the necessity of a good working relationship between home educating parents and local authorities. AIM is concerned that the viability of the proposed legislation appears to be dependent on this. 

 

5.1 At the beginning of January, AIM wrote to the Secretary of State raising our concerns about the Equalities Impact Assessment.  In her reply dated 19 January, Diana Johnson stated that "...for most home educators who already work well with their local authorities, the proposals will bring little change on the ground.  However, when combined with our wider proposals, home educators will have much better access to support if their children have SEN...".

 

5.2 The fact is that parents and carers of autistic children are not 'most home educators'.  Often the only reason they are home educating their children is because the local authority has already failed to make suitable educational provision for those children. Contact with local authorities is often a fraught affair, with parents experiencing pressure to return the child to an unsuitable school or pressure to accept inappropriate support from a SSEN that was not adhered to in school. Many parents and carers are unable to work well with their local authority, not because they are unwilling to do so, but because the local authority is unwilling or unable to meet the educational needs of the child.  

 

6. Conclusion

 

AIM is aware that the Committee has concerns about support for children with disabilities and SEN and was pleased to see that Brian Lamb, John Friel and Beth Reid were called to give evidence.  However, we are also aware that there is often a discrepancy between what is intended to happen and what happens on the ground, and that the actual experience of parents and children can be inadvertently overlooked during policy development.  We hope the Committee will find this Memorandum helpful in its consideration of the proposed legislation.

 

January 2010