Here you can read about our policy work and campaigning activity about children in England: what we have done so far and the work we still have ahead of us to ensure that every child and young person on the autism spectrum gets the right education and support for their individual needs.
More than one in 100 children is on the autism spectrum. Every young person is different. Each child deserves to have their particular needs understood and met, to develop their unique skills and talents, and to have the opportunity to achieve their potential.
Getting the right education and support is a top concern for many of our members and other people who contact us. Parents tell us they want a range of provision for their children, including access to support in mainstream schools, special schools, resource bases in mainstream schools and dual placements. But we know that parents often have to fight to get the support their children need.
By talking to policy-makers in Parliament and Government and influencing their work, we aim to make sure that the education system works effectively for all children and young people on the autism spectrum.
We also work closely with other organisations, and we are a member of the Special Educational Consortium a group of organisations that come together to protect and promote the rights of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
Working with Ambitious about Autism, we are also calling for Every Child on the autism spectrum to get the support they need at school.
Improving the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) system
Getting the right support through the SEND system is crucial for children and young people on the autism spectrum.
The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced a new system for supporting children with SEND. The reforms included replacing statements of special educational needs with education, health and care plans (EHCPs), extending the system to cover children and young people from birth to the age of 25, bringing education, health and care services together in a coordinated plan around the needs of the individual child, and introducing a 'local offer' in every area setting out the services that are available for children and young people with SEND. This reflected what parents and young people had told us they wanted from a reformed system.
In 2015, one year on from the introduction of the new system, we asked parents and young people on the autism spectrum what difference the reforms were making. We created our School Report 2015.
In 2016, two years since the new system was introduced, we again asked parents and young people about their experiences, to see if the promises of the Act are being fulfilled for autistic children and young people. School Report 2016 found that too many autistic children and their families are:
- Waiting too long and having to fight too hard for the right support to be put in place
- Unable to access the range of non-educational support to help autistic young people reach their full potential
- Unable to access the right help in school because of a lack of understanding and autism expertise across the school system
As a result of what parents of autistic children told us, we are calling on policy makers to:
- Reduce delays in accessing support and make sure families get help to challenge the system, when needed
- Work with local authorities, schools and multi-academy trusts to make sure that the right mix of educational provision and support for autistic children is available in local areas
- Make sure that training and awareness of autism is embedded across the education system
- Introduce a single point of appeal for education, health and care
Including autism in teacher training
58 per cent of children and young people on the autism spectrum told us that the single thing that would make the biggest difference to their experience of school is having a teacher who understands autism. Parents say the same thing, and worry that a lack of support for their child at school affects their child’s educational progress, self-esteem and communication skills. A survey of teachers carried out by the NASUWT in 2013 found that 60 per cent of teachers believed they did not have the training they needed to teach pupils on the autism spectrum.
We campaigned hard for autism to be included in the training that new teachers will receive. We therefore welcomed the announcement in July 2016 that a new core framework for Initial Teacher Training in England would be introduced from 2018 that would include autism as part of new training on special educational needs and disability. The new framework states clearly that all trainee teachers should learn how to adapt their teaching strategies so that autistic pupils are fully included and helped to succeed.
We continue to campaign for every teacher – not just new teachers – to receive autism training to enable them to meet the needs of every child. We also believe that all school staff – not just teachers – should receive this training.
Reducing avoidable exclusions
Too many children on the autism spectrum are excluded from school, either for fixed periods or permanently. National figures from the Department for Education show that pupils on the autism spectrum are four times more likely to receive a fixed-term exclusion than pupils without special educational needs. And these figures do not include 'informal' exclusions – unofficial exclusions, where parents are asked to remove their child from school, either as a one-off occurrence or on a regular basis, without any formal records that this is happening.
Exclusions are often the result of a lack of understanding of autism by schools. A failure to recognise the needs of autistic pupils and make reasonable adjustments to meet these needs can result in schools excluding autistic children more often than is necessary. We believe that schools need to be prepared to make more adjustments to the school environment, including behaviour policies. This would improve autistic pupils’ experience of school, avoid placing them at a disadvantage, and reduce the number of avoidable exclusions.
Improving the transition into adulthood
The difficulties of transition from childhood to adulthood for young people with disabilities have been well documented. Many parents fear that when their child on the autism spectrum reaches their late teens they will 'fall off a cliff', and there will suddenly be a lack of services available to them. Too many young people across the autism spectrum find themselves unable to realise their ambitions, because they do not have access to the right support for their transition to adulthood.
The Children and Families Act 2014 has extended the SEND system for young people up to the age of 25, if they are still in education. Schools and other service providers should start having discussions with young people about their long-term goals at an early stage – ideally before they reach the age of 14. EHC plans should include a focus on preparing for adulthood. An adult care transition assessment should be carried out for young people aged 18 or over who have special needs or disabilities and are likely to need care and support from adult services.
We support these changes, and believe that the extension of support up to the age of 25 must join up with recent reforms to adult social care to help improve young people's transition to adult services. It is vital that these changes don’t simply push the 'cliff edge' for autistic young people from 16 to 25 years old.