ChildThe National Autistic Society is intervening in a legal case brought by the parents of a autistic boy, known as ‘L’, who was excluded from school because of his behaviour. However, that behaviour was linked to L being autistic.

Our charity intervened in this case because we believe there is a loophole in the law that means schools don’t have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children when they have a “tendency to physical abuse”, even when that behaviour is down to a lack of appropriate support. This important legal case challenges that loophole, and the Secretary of State for Education has also been included. We hope that by being involved, we can help change the law so that autistic children get the support they need in school.

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Children should only ever be excluded from school as a last resort, when every other possible solution has been tried. Government statistics show that autistic children in England are three times more likely to be excluded than children without special educational needs.

“Currently, the Equality Act means that schools must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled students get the right support. However, due to a legal loophole, schools can exclude pupils who have a ‘tendency to physical abuse’ – even in a situation where a school hasn't made reasonable adjustments for their disability or impairment. This means there isn't enough incentive for schools to make every possible reasonable adjustment before resorting to exclusion. Too many children are missing out on months and years of their education as a result and we want to remove this legal loophole.

“Children on the autism spectrum see, hear and feel the world in a different, often more intense way from other people and they can become highly anxious when schools don't put in the right support for them. Noisy classrooms, not getting instructions in a clear way and not having time to process information can contribute to this anxiety. In some cases, children can become so overwhelmed that they may lose control of their behaviour. A lot of families call this a ‘meltdown’ or a ‘shutdown’ and this can be perceived incorrectly by others as naughty or disruptive.

“More than 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum in the UK. Exclusions can have a devastating impact, keeping them out of school for long periods which affects their learning, development and long-term prospects. It’s important that schools are encouraged to understand and support their autistic pupils, rather than resorting too quickly to exclusion.”

The case is being heard today and tomorrow in the Upper Tribunal in London, although the verdict may not be known for several weeks. The National Autistic Society is being represented by Clifford Chance LLP and Nick Armstrong from Matrix Chambers. We thank them for their support in the case.

If you’re looking for help getting the right education for your child, we have lots of information and tips on our website.

We also run an Education Rights Service, which offers impartial and confidential support to families on school education rights and entitlements.