Memorandum submitted by TreeHouseThe
national charity for autism education
TreeHouse is the national charity for autism
education. Our vision is to transform through education the lives
of children with autism and the lives of their families. Established
in 1997 by a group of parents, TreeHouse runs a school for
children and young people with autism and campaigns for better
autism education nationally.
Through our direct educational provision and
through our projects which support parents to campaign and participate
we have been able to build extensive knowledge and expertise around
best practice in the education of children with autism.
TreeHouse School has 67 pupils and we represent
them and their families. Our Parent Support Project and Parent
Participation Project work with many parents around the UK. Through
networks the coverage of these groups reaches up to 1,000 parents.
At TreeHouse, we know that education can be
the most effective intervention to improve outcomes for children
and young people with autism. It is our core business to ensure
all children with autism across the country can access the right
education to unlock their potential. It is therefore imperative
that children and young people with autism do not experience discrimination
in schools, so that all children with autism can achieve the best
This submission of evidence will look at:
Discrimination through exclusions.
Discrimination through bullying.
Discrimination through segregation.
Discriminations in the school complaints
Child poverty and autism.
The youth justice system and autism.
1. Indirect discrimination and education
The Lewisham v Malcolm (2008) ruling has already
led to changes in the guidance to schools on improving behaviour
so that in cases of exclusion of a child with autism considered
to be behaving badly will be compared to a pupil who has behaved
in the same way but who is not disabled. This is a significant
weakening of the guidance and the protection for pupils with autism
from exclusion because of their disability. It is incredibly important
that this is dealt with.
We understand that it is likely that the Government
will have to introduce indirect discrimination due to forthcoming
European legislation, However, we are concerned that indirect
discrimination will not be secure enough to strengthen the position
of children with autism facing exclusion as a consequence of their
Indirect discrimination is already a feature
of other equality legislation, such as race and sex legislation.
In practice it means that a disproportionate impact needs to be
demonstrated mathematically. So, rather than just showing that
some people within a protected group would be disadvantaged, you
need to show that most people are disadvantaged. This will not
necessarily protect more disabled people against discrimination.
In the case of exclusion from school there are
often very unique sets of circumstances which may have led to
the exclusion so it could prove difficult for families to prove
indirect discrimination. Furthermore, indirect discrimination
still relies on a like-for-like comparison between disabled people
and others. Without removing this comparison requirement, the
consequences of the Malcolm judgement will remain.
2. Exclusions and autism
The third report
by the TreeHouse Constructive Campaigning Parent Support Project
looked at the disproportionate exclusion rate of children with
autism from school. 43% of parents reported their child with autism
had been officially excluded within the previous 12 months;
only a quarter of these exclusions were one-off occurrences.
Exclusions almost invariably deprive children
with autism of the education that is so vital to meeting their
needs. Parents reported that exclusions led to their children
displaying signs of extreme distress, anxiety and low self-esteem.
In the majority of cases, the distress experienced by children
with autism resulting from extremely difficult experiences in
school has caused pervasive and long lasting damage. Sir Alan
Steer stated that "School exclusion of any child should only
take place if there is no reasonable alternative action available."
Illegal exclusions are a particular concern
for parents; a concern shared in the Steer review. An illegal
exclusion is when parents are asked to remove their child from
school before the end of the school day without any formal procedure
being followed. 55% of parents surveyed reported that their child
with autism had experienced illegal exclusion over the years.
The main concerns of parents regarding illegal
the frequency of cases of illegal exclusion;
parents were not provided with sufficient
information about how the schools were addressing illegal exclusion
parents were not informed about what
reasonable adjustments were being made following these cases of
illegal exclusions; and
parents were not informed how schools
recorded these illegal exclusions.
71% of parents said there were specific events,
times of day or school year that were linked to occasions of illegal
exclusion. Events that parents reported are linked with exclusion
the run up to Christmas (74%);
the beginning of a new term (68%);
school sports day (58%);
school trips (58%); and
school inspections (26%).
Parents also reported that internal exclusion
was a significant concern. Internal exclusion is the removal of
a child from school activities, ranging from a particular subject
class to a school performance.
Poor communication between schools and parents
on internal exclusion left parents anxious and frustrated. As
they were not routinely informed of instances of internal exclusion,
parents believed that neither they nor the schools had full details
of the circumstances leading up to the internal exclusion. If
they were informed of an internal exclusion, parents found it
difficult to establish if the reason for the exclusion was disciplinary
or preventative for example to remove the child from the classroom
to defuse an escalating situation.
Exclusions also have a far-reaching impact on
parents of children with autism; 44% of parents who responded
to the survey reported that their child's exclusion regularly
required them to leave work and this has a detrimental effect
on their employment; 85% of these parents have children who have
been illegally excluded.
3. Bullying and autism
It is well known that children with autism,
along with children with other disabilities, are more likely to
be victims of bullying. A report by the National Autistic Society
found that 40% of children with autism have been bullied. The
TreeHouse Constructive Campaigning Parent Support's "Emerging
found bullying to be one of the most concerning issues for parents.
The impact of bullying on children with autism
can be devastating. Bullying affects the ability of children with
autism to participate in education and their peer groups. It can
have serious repercussions for their emotional and physical well-being
as well as their academic performance. Some children are severely
traumatised by this experience and many may never recover. Parents
often feel that schools do not take appropriate measures to prevent
children with autism from being bullied.
Parents have told us about how their children's
school experiences are overshadowed by bullying:
"I ask him how his day has been at school
and he gives me a run down of who's bullied him that day and what
they said or did to him. It would be nice to hear of a friendship
he's made, or feeling proud of some work he has done instead."
Social interaction difficulties encountered
by children on the autistic spectrum make them particularly vulnerable
in educational settings. For instance a child may respond well
during lessons but find that they struggle most during break times
when their social communication needs are not supported. This
may mean that children on the autistic spectrum become withdrawn
or appear aloof and indifferent; they may also be insensitive
to the feelings of others. This can lead to problems at break
times and puts children at risk of becoming isolated and victims
Many parents believe that schools' poor handling
of bullying is a result of a general lack of understanding of
school staff about autism. When school staff are well trained
in autism, it makes a real difference to their propensity to respond
appropriately to bullying situations and, indeed, prevent bullying
in the first place.
We believe that every child with autism should
be able to access an inclusive education that meets each child's
unique needs. At TreeHouse, we know that all educational settings
for children with autism, mainstream or special schools, can facilitate
an inclusive education. Successful inclusion depends on the ability
of staff to understand each child's needs and work with the child
and their family to ensure that they are able to participate with
their peers, their family and in the wider community.
It is the long term vision of TreeHouse that
all children with autism will be able to access a high quality,
inclusive education that is appropriate to their needs and abilities,
provided by a skilled workforce at a local school.
Our research on inclusive education,
which sought the views of parents of children with autism across
the country, clearly demonstrated that inclusion was important
to them and that inclusion can work and is happening. But there
are still too many cases where inclusion is not working and could
Parents told us what an inclusive education
means to them:
"Providing children with an educational
environment that meets their needs in a holistic way, not just
"Letting a child be themselves,
while teaching them to cope in a wider world"
"Education which is tailored to
the needs and abilities of each child"
"Working with mainstream peer group
whilst still having special needs met individually"
These quotes give clear messages about how education
providers can be working to ensure that children and young people
with autism are not segregated.
Staff training is critical. If education providers
do not fully understand autism and how it can affect each individual
child it is unlikely that they will be able to enable children
with autism, through understanding the social and emotional challenges
that each child might face, to be valued and part of their peers
and their community. In his report on pupil behaviour, Sir Alan
Steer said "Whatever the cause of the individual behaviour
problem, successful intervention requires intelligent, caring
action on behalf of the school and the external support agencies
and which relates to individual need."
Difficulties experienced by children with autism
in schools can have a massive effect on families and their capacity
to work. Parents are frequently called on to fill gaps in provision
due to exclusion. This can place stress on family life, with families
of children with autism being much more likely to be lone parent
For these reasons families of children with
autism are at high risk of poverty. The high risk of poverty could
also affect the social mobility of siblings of children with autism.
TreeHouse produced a report
that looked at the extra difficulties faced by parents of disabled
children who wish to work. The impact of disability on the poverty
3% of mothers of a disabled child being
in full-time employment as compared to 22% of mothers of a non-disabled
84% of mothers of disabled children do
not work, as compared to 39% of mothers with a non-disabled child.
It costs, on average, three times as
much to raise a child with a complex impairment than a non-disabled
Over a quarter of parents with a disabled
child are lone parents.
Families affected by autism are likely to spend
more time at home due to the disproportionately high rate of exclusion
in schools and difficulties accessing in wider services. This
can result in a greater consumption of fuel in the winter. Coupled
with the higher incidence of poverty among families affected by
autism, fuel poverty is a serious issue for families affected
TreeHouse believes the following changes would
improve the financial situations of families affected by autism:
Better autism training for the school workforceentire
school staff to receive comprehensive training in meeting the
needs of children with autism to prevent exclusions and bullying,
and ensure each unique child's needs are met.
Greater flexibility in the workplaceneeds
of parents with disabled children to be recognised by employers,
opportunities for parents seeking employment to discuss flexible
working at the outset, paid time for parents needing time for
their child's appointments, amendment to discrimination laws to
provide protection against discrimination in work.
Better access to servicesensure
traditionally deprived and hard-to-reach groups are well informed
of available services, able to access services and aware of their
rights as parents of disabled children.
Greater entitlement to winter fuel allowance
for families with children with autism.
There is evidence that indicates that a disproportionate
number of young people with autism are in the youth justice system.
The clear relationship between the educational experiences of
young people and their likelihood to offend is of great concern
to us, in particular the worrying percentages of young offenders
having a statement of SEN or previous permanent exclusions.
We know that autism affects one in 100 school-aged
and that children with autism represent 14.6% of children with
a statement of SEN.
Furthermore, pupils with statements of SEN are over three times
more likely to be permanently excluded from school than the rest
of the school population, and pupils with SEN (both with and without
statements) are more likely to be excluded than those pupils with
Unfortunately more specific figures about the
type of SEN that are represented in the youth justice system are
not available, making it hard to ascertain the full picture. We
believe that more detailed collection of statistics will help
to better define the type of support that is required for each
young person in the youth justice system.
551 Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008)
"Improving behaviour and attendance: guidance on exclusion
from schools and Pupil Referral Units" Back
The TreeHouse "Exclusion Report" is available to download
at www.treehouse.org.uk Back
"Review of Pupil Behaviour", Sir Alan Steer, February
National Autistic Society, "B is for Bullying", 2006 http://www.nas.org.uk/content/1/c6/01/18/57/bullying.pdf
"Emerging issues and emerging solutions", TreeHouse,
"Improving inclusion: getting inclusive education right
for children with autism", written by Robbie de Santos and
Sasha Daly, TreeHouse, September 2008 http://www.treehouse.org.uk/_download/KEVPFQOX.pdf
Scope, TreeHouse and Working Families (2007) "Making Work
WORK for parents of disabled children" Back
Child Poverty Review,(2004) HM Treasury Back
Langerman, C. and Worrall, E. (2005) "Ordinary Lives-Disabled
children and their families" London: New Philanthropy Capital Back
Dobson, B. and Middleton, S. (1998) "Paying to care: the
costs of childhood disability" Back
Barnes, M. et al (2004) "Families and Children in Britain:
Findings from the 2002 Families and Children Study (FACS)"
Department for Work and Pensions, Research Report 206 Back
The Office of National Statistics recently reported a rate of
autism of 1% in the population of school-age children. Back
Department for Education and Skills, January 2007, National Statistic
SFR 20/2007 Special Educational Needs in England Back
Department for Education and Skills, January 2007, National Statistics
SFR 21/2007 Permanent and fixed period exclusions from schools
and exclusion appeals in England Back