We're supporting a new Bill that would, if passed into law, improve equality at school for autistic children and young people.
was introduced in the House of Commons by Martin Vickers, a Conservative backbench MP, who is highlighting the case of a specific family in his constituency. It would amend the Equality Act 2010 by closing the loophole that allows schools to exclude pupils with disabilities such as autism if they physically harm others, without considering that a child’s behaviour may be caused by their disability, and by needs that the school has not met.
The law currently requires schools to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled pupils. Making reasonable adjustments means taking steps to enable a disabled child to do what their non-disabled peers do and avoid putting them at a disadvantage because of their disability.
Treating a child on the autism spectrum fairly does not necessarily mean treating them identically to other children, but creating an environment in which they can learn to the best of their ability. Adjustments may include things like assistance with communication, a quiet room, or a highly structured daily routine.
But schools do not always have a good understanding of this duty. Sometimes schools resist making the adjustments that pupils with disabilities need. Then, when the child’s behaviour becomes challenging or disruptive, some schools will exclude the child on the grounds of their ‘tendency to physical abuse of others’.
The law as it currently stands means it is possible for schools to provide insufficient support to enable autistic pupils to manage their behaviour, and then exclude them when that behaviour becomes challenging.
The proposed amendment to the law does not mean accepting violent behaviour at school. Neither does it imply that all children and young people on the autism spectrum are physically aggressive to the people around them. Instead, it would require schools to focus on the needs of individual pupils and on how these can be met at an early stage, to avoid situations where a child or young person may lash out.
The Bill, which was introduced under the Ten Minute Rule procedure, is due to have a second reading in the House of Commons on 16 December 2016.