The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by TreeHouse

  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.

  Our core work is to ensure that every child and young person with autism is supported and able to participate fully in society. We believe that it is only through education that we can truly meet their needs.

  Autism is a complex lifelong neurological condition affecting approximately 1 in 100 school aged children in the UK. Autism is unique because there is no other condition of such complexity, affecting so many children in the UK, about which so little is known.

  Through our direct educational provision, our national campaigning work and our Parent Support Project, which supports parents as local campaigners and service-builders, we have been able to build extensive knowledge and expertise around best practice in the education of children with autism.

  TreeHouse School has 66 pupils and we represent them and their families. Our Parent Support Project works with various campaigning groups of parents around the UK, the coverage of these groups, through networks, reaches up to 1,000 parents.


  As an organisation which represents children with disabilities and their families, TreeHouse fully supports the Convention and sees it as essential to ensuring commitment to equality for disabled people in the UK and around the world.

  TreeHouse is a member of the UN Convention Campaign Coalition which aims to ensure that the UK government ratifies the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) without reservation. We support the Coalition's submission to the Committee and agree that the Convention:

    —  Is the first human rights instrument to be absolutely clear about disabled people's right to be treated as full and equal human beings.

    —  Can be used at all levels as further evidence that disabled people must be included in the rights agenda—and shows exactly what that means for local and national statutory authorites.

    —  Can be used for responses to local and national policies that affect disabled people.

    —  Can be adopted by local authorities, government departments, NHS Trusts, and all public bodies as part of their Disability Equality Schemes and as the basis of their Disability Equality Duty.

    —  Can be used as evidence to prove a violation in any case taken in relation to either the DDA or the Human Rights Act.

    —  Is an excellent support to training both non-disabled and disabled people in rights and equality for disabled people.

    —  Like all human rights instruments, is not just a legal tool, is also sets an international cross-cultural moral standard for the treatment of disabled people. It effectively articulates a moral code of behaviour by which states, governments, public bodies and all human beings should follow toward disabled people.


  As an education charity representing children with disabilities and their families we have a particular interest in Article 24, especially as the government has stated its wish to make an interpretative declaration and make reservations on part 2 (a) and (b).

  We support the full ratification of this article including parts 2 (a) and (b). We believe that inclusive education should be a right for all children and families. Our recent research report on inclusive education for children with autism[49] gathered parents' experiences and views. The research made a strong case for inclusion. Parents told us that inclusive education is important because inclusion could:

    —  Help prepare some children with autism to live more independently as adults.

    —  Help children with autism become more widely valued and recognised.

    —  Enable children to feel part of a peer group and the wider community.

    —  Inspire confidence and happiness and reduce anxieties.

    —  Grant children with autism access to a suitable education.

  At TreeHouse, we know that all kinds of education provisions for children with autism can fail to facilitate inclusion. It is the long term vision of TreeHouse that all children with autism will be able to access high quality education that is appropriate to their needs and abilities, provided by a skilled and specialist workforce at their local school.


  The debate around inclusive education had progressed significantly in the past year. RNID's Beyond Bricks and Mortar[50] and the Council for Disabled Children's Inclusion Policy[51] both conclude that successful and effective inclusion is achievable in any setting, as long as all the right factors are in place.

  Our inclusion research report gathered the views of parents of children with autism. Fifty-eight parents responded to our survey, covering six English regions.

  Although our sample was small, the findings clearly show that:

    —  Parents have positive experiences of inclusion in all kinds of school settings.

    —  Parents see the many benefits that successful inclusion can bring.

    —  Inclusion is important to parents not only for the experiences of their children while as school but also for their children to go on to live more independent lives.

  We asked parents about the factors that contributed to successful inclusive practices for their children. Parents told us inclusion works well when:

    —  Teachers and other school staff have autism training.

    —  The individual child's needs are catered for.

    —  There are good partnerships between schools.

    —  Parents are listened to and involved.

    —  There is a positive school and staff ethos.

    —  Buddying and mentoring schemes are used.

    —  The child has help building social skills and confidence.

    —  Schools take a flexible approach to curricula and timetabling.

  All of the above practices can be employed in any school setting, as long as the workforce are skilled to understand each child's needs, committed to making inclusion work, and the school has sufficient resources to facilitate an appropriate level of support. Indeed, several respondents reported some of these factors are currently being practiced in schools that their children attend, covering both mainstream and special schools.


  Working towards full inclusion is achievable: we know that all schools can get inclusive education right for children with autism. At present, a range of different schools are facilitating a good, inclusive education provision for children with autism.

  In working towards inclusion, schools must collaborate and work in partnership to share and disseminate good practice. This will help equip all schools with the capacity to provide an education for children with autism that meets the needs of each unique child.

  TreeHouse school is a school for children with autism in north London. Our partnership working with local schools is an example of the collaborations that mainstream and special schools across the country can form to provide a high quality, holistic education to help each unique child fulfil their potential.

  An example of this is our "reverse inclusion" programme with neighbouring Muswell Hill Primary School. Reverse inclusion is when children from a mainstream primary school visit a special school or unit to participate in play with disabled children.

  A group of Year 6 pupils from Muswell Hill Primary School visit TreeHouse School each week to play with a group of TreeHouse pupils whose teachers think they will benefit from contact with mainstream peers. Relationships develop over the course of the school year as the mainstream school pupils gain a better understanding of autism and of each child's strengths and needs, while the TreeHouse pupils build their confidence in social interaction. The programme depends on a close partnership between the special and mainstream schools and on the dedication and enthusiasm of the staff.

3 November 2008

49   Improving Inclusion: getting inclusive education right for children with autism (written and researched by Robbie de Santos and Sasha Daly), September 2008. Available at Back

50 Back

51   Available from the Council for Disabled Children Back

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