Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by Ambitious about Autism and Autism Alliance UK (E 07)

Education Bill and autism education

Ambitious about Autism is the national charity for autism education. We also run a non- maintained special school for children with complex autism in North London. Autism Alliance UK is an umbrella membership organisation for regional and national voluntary sector organisations that specialise in autism services and strives to share and develop best autism practice. We have an interest in the Education Bill as it is vital that the large-scale changes to the education landscape proposed in the Bill deliver good outcomes for all learners – including those with autism.

Ambitious about Autism and Autism Alliance UK welcome the ambitions behind the Education Bill; particula rly the principle that children of all b ackgrounds and of all abilities should receive an excellent education that enables them to fulfil their potential.

Children with autism and other special educational needs (SEN) currently face higher rates of exclusion and poorer educational outcomes than their peers:

· over 40% of children with autism have been bullied at school [1]

· 43% of children with autism were officially excluded from school in a 12 month period [2]

· pupils with special educational needs (SEN) are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their peers [3]

We welcome the Government’s commitment to support vulnerable groups, and narrow the attainment gap in schools. We are keen to work constructively to ensure the Education Bill delivers improved outcomes for pupils with autism.

Our key concerns about the provisions in the Bill relate to:

· the changes to exclusion procedures

· the implications of the discipline measures for children with autism

· educational opportunities for young people 16-19 with autism

· co-ordination and strategic planning of specialist provision

· impact of special school academies on non-maintained special schools

Ambitious about Autism and Autism Alliance UK are working closely with the Special Educational Consortium (SEC) and fully endorse their briefing for this debate. Below we outline the particular issues for children with autism arising from the Bill.

Exclusions

Exclusions are a major concern for parents of children with autism. Our research showed that 43% of children with autism were officially excluded from school in a 12 month period [4] . Exclusion can often be the result of an underlying special educational need, which has not been identified and has manifested as challenging behaviour.

Exclusions impact on children’s ability to take part in education and fulfil their potential; they also impact on parents’ ability to work and take part in training. We welcome the statement in the Schools White Paper that exclusion should be considered only ‘once everything else has been tried’, and that we must address the current inequalities that are evident in schools exclusions.

However, we are concerned about the Bill’s proposal (in Clause 4) for exclusion review panels to be unable to order reinstatement of a pupil, even where the child was mistakenly or wrongly excluded.

We recognise that, for those children who meet the Equality Act definition of disability, their appeals against exclusions can be heard by the First Tier (SEND) Tribunal. We understand the Tribunal could then order reinstatement, but we would like to seek clarity from the Government on this point.

However, our primary concern is for excluded young people who may have unmet special educational needs that impact upon their behaviour, but may not easily fit the Equality Act definition of disability. For example, we see many cases where young people with high-functioning autism, but without a diagnosis, struggle to understand instructions given to them at school, or fail to effectively communicate their innocence, and end up in a cycle of exclusion. This is backed up by evidence showing that children at School Action Plus are currently the most likely to be excluded from school – 20 times more likely than their peers [5] .

Considering the disproportionately high number of children at School Action Plus who are excluded from school, and the impact exclusions have on children with autism and their families, Ambitious about Autism believes the Government should amend the provisions in Clause 4 to create fair protection for children at School Action and School Action Plus.

Discipline

The Bill extends teachers powers to search pupils (Clauses 2 and 3). Children with autism often have difficulty understanding instructions, and coping with social interactions. They may also have sensory issues that mean they may respond in an unpredictable way to physical contact. Both these factors have an impact on teachers’ ability to carry out searches that are safe for both pupil and teacher. Our experience is that teachers require training in order to understand these factors, and carry out safe and appropriate searches for young people with autism.

We also have concerns around the repeal of the requirement to give notice of detention to a parent (Clause 5). Many children on the autism spectrum have a very limited understanding of risk and danger. Disruption to plans for their travel home from school, changes to their routine, or parents being uncertain about their whereabouts, can all cause serious distress and create safeguarding risks. We also feel that detention without notice has the potential to cause relationship breakdown between the school and the child’s family for these reasons, which can impact on the child’s success at school.

We seek clarity from the Government about how they will ensure the additional needs of children with autism are considered in these discipline proposals.

Post 16 Education and Training

We welcome a renewed commitment of the duty to participate in education or training beyond the age of 16. However, we know that there is currently a dearth of educational provision for young people with autism aged 16-18. Young people with disabilities are two and a half times more likely to be not in education, employment or training than their non-disabled peers [6] .

We are keen to hear the Government’s plans for increasing educational opportunities for young people with complex needs. We would also welcome a commitment to ensure clear and sustainable funding for post-16 education provision in the light of the abolition of the YPLA.

Coordination and strategic planning for specialist services

 

The Schools White Paper confirms that local authorities will retain responsibility for children with SEN. Ambitious about Autism has concerns that by repealing the duty for schools to cooperate with local authorities (Clause 30), and the duty to have regard to Children and Young People’s Plans (Clause 31), the Bill makes it increasingly difficult for local authorities to deliver against their responsibilities for children with SEN. We are unsure how local authorities will be able to strategically plan and coordinate services – especially those for children with complex needs – without strong links to their local schools, and we seek clarity on this point.

During the passage of the Autism Act, the Government committed to improving strategic planning and coordination of services for children with autism. We are keen to know how the Government intends to deliver on this commitment.

Impact of special academies on non-maintained special schools

The Bill includes provisions to roll out special school academies (Clause 51). As a non-maintained special school, Ambitious about Autism seeks clarity about how funding arrangements will work for special school academies. We seek assurance from the Government that non-maintained special schools will not be subject to unfair competition through the funding arrangements for special school academies.

Additional points

We recognise that the forthcoming SEN and Disability Green Paper may include recommendations against some of the above points. However, this Bill proposes to remove several duties and safeguards (as detailed above) now. The Green Paper will set out initial ideas, but may take years to have an effect on the ground. Parents will want assurance that services for children with SEN remain a priority for the Government, and will not be eroded through the measures in this Bill.

We support the points raised by the Special Educational Consortium around:

· fairness, accountability and parent voice in admissions arrangements

· how parents will be able to effectively hold schools to account

· the impact of academies on funding for specialist support services

· how the Bill will deliver the plans to improve training on SEN articulated in the Schools White Paper 

We also echo the concerns of the National Autistic Society around the proposals for exemption from Ofsted inspections. We understand that exempt schools may never have had an assessment of their SEN provision, and under the new regulations may never do so. We seek clarity from the Government around what steps will be taken to ensure that the quality of a school’s SEN provision will be reflected in its Ofsted rating.

February 2011


[1] Batten, A. et al (2006) ‘Autism and Education’, National Autistic Society, London

[2] TreeHouse, ‘Disobedience or Disability? The exclusion of children with autism from education, 2009

[3] Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) National Statistics SFR 14/2008 ‘Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions from Schools and Exclusion Appeals in England , 2006/2007’

[4] TreeHouse, ‘Disobedience or Disability? The exclusion of children with autism from education, 2009

[5] Department for Education (2010) Children with Special Educational Needs 2010: An analysis , p122 .

[6] Department for Ch ildren, Schools and Families & National Statistics (2009) Youth Cohort Study & Longitudinal Study of Young People in England : The Activities and Experiences of 17 year olds: England