We published our School Report 2016 in September to highlight the key challenges facing autistic children, young people and their families as they try to access the help they need in school. 

The publication of the report marked the second anniversary of the new special educational needs system in England. It explored how those reforms were being implemented, based on what parents and autistic young people told us was happening on the ground.

Since September, we've been talking to civil servants and MPs about the report. And, in November, we met with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Minister Edward Timpson. Along with Cheryl Gillan MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, we presented the main findings from our survey of parents, carers and young people on the autism spectrum.

We highlighted our particular concerns about the length of time people have to wait for support to be put in place, the delays with transferring children from statements to education, health and care (EHC) plans, the adversarial relationship in many areas between councils and parents, and the lack of autism expertise across the school system.

We also discussed the new initial teacher training framework, which will include autism as a topic that all trainee teachers should learn about from September 2018, as we called for in our Every Teacher campaign.

The Department for Education's response

Since then, the Department for Education (DfE) has made a number of announcements that should help councils put the support that children and young people on the autism spectrum need in place, and which they are entitled to by law. These include:

  • training in SEND law for council SEND officers, to help them fully understand their legal responsibilities under the Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND Code of Practice
  • making the process of transferring children with SEND from statements to EHC plans a key priority. The DfE has allocated £40 million to councils in 2017/18 to help them do this. This funding is an increase of £4.2 million on 2016/17. While the money has not been ringfenced – which means that councils can decide how they want to spend it – it appears that ministers have listened to concerns about the way the new SEND system is being implemented and the financial pressure councils are facing
  • monitoring the transfer to the new SEND system by collecting additional data from councils throughout the next year, up to March 2018, which is the transfer deadline. Ministers have said that additional support will be provided to councils who need it by the Government’s team of SEND advisers
  • in response to requests for guidance on what EHC plans should look like, the DfE says it will publish examples of good practice
  • a high needs strategic planning fund has been allocated this financial year, with all councils in England receiving funding to carry out a review of the high needs provision in their area and plan ahead to meet future needs. Every council will be required to publish their own plan. Our charity welcomes this, as we have called repeatedly for better planning by councils to ensure that the right mix of school provision is available in every local area to meet the needs of children across the autism spectrum.

Our response

Sarah Lambert, our Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said: "There is still a long way to go before every child and young person on the autism spectrum receives the educational support they need. The new SEND system introduced in England two years ago held a lot of promise, but implementation has been slow in many areas.

"We welcome any indication from the Government that they recognise the problem of long waits for support, the apparent reluctance of some councils to work with parents, and the need for proper planning to make sure that the school places that children on the autism spectrum need are available in all local areas."

We will be watching closely to see what difference the additional money and training make to the experience of autistic children and young people and their families.

"We will be looking this year at the different approaches to SEND taken by different councils, monitoring the findings of SEND local area inspections carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, and responding to the Government’s consultation on high needs funding reform.”

If you have any comments or want to know more about any of this, please contact policy@nas.org.uk.