Three Scottish charities have welcomed today’s report from independent chair Angela Morgan into Additional Support for Learning (ASL). Commissioned by Scottish Government, the report; ‘Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential’ highlights that despite the hard work of many dedicated professionals, ASL is not visible or equally valued within Scotland’s education system. Consequently, implementation of policies and legislation is fragmented and inconsistent meaning that children often do not get the vital support they need to flourish and fulfil their potential.

The charities welcome the important recommendations which if acted upon would make a real difference to the 6500 autistic children across Scotland and all children with additional support needs.

While the recommendations on teacher education and development are very welcome the charities argue this must include autism awareness training for teachers, which was a central call from the ground-breaking Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report, published in 2018. In line with the feedback to the Review from children and young people, more knowledge and understanding of their needs would help achieve our hopes in education and learning for all children.

As part of the charities’ Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report, a survey of 1,417 parents and carers of autistic children revealed that many autistic children were not receiving the support they need to succeed at school and achieve their potential.

Worryingly, more than a third (34%) of respondents said their autistic child had been unlawfully excluded in the last two years - with almost a quarter (22%) saying this happened multiple times a week. The principle reason given was that appropriate support was often not in place which led to children struggling in school and developing distressed behaviour through no fault of their own. Since the report’s publication the charities have not been assured that the incidence of unlawful exclusion is monitored or addressed.

Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism have worked with the Scottish Government and key partners on a raft of changes that would ensure new teachers receive autism awareness and understanding training as part of their Initial Teacher Education.

However, these have yet to be announced and with the impact of the pandemic there are concerns that this work will fail to progress.

Given the challenges that face autistic children and families around going back to school following the lockdown, autism awareness training is needed more than ever to ensure that transition is successful and to prevent further exclusions.

Suzanne is a mother of an autistic son and has been involved in the Not Included campaign. Her son Callum was initially excluded (a decision now overturned) but is now being well supported in his high school. Suzanne says:

“Autism awareness training for teachers would make a huge difference – at the moment there is a lot of emphasis on when things go wrong, outbursts or meltdowns for example – it’s important however that things don’t get to this stage. Autism awareness training would help teachers create a better teaching environment, avoiding sensory over stimulation and understanding the importance of keeping calm. In the past if Callum got upset – teachers got upset too and things became a vicious circle. Thankfully things are now going well for Callum and staff are much better at supporting him and involving me in in discussions. It now feels like they are working with me not against me.”

Sally Cavers Head of Inclusion at Children in Scotland, said:

“As a contributor to a working group established by the National Autism Implementation Team and Education Scotland, I feel the amount and quality of work that has gone into planning for autistic children’s return to school is exceptional. My hope is that these plans are implemented as quickly as possible and as consistently as possible across Scotland. We cannot continue to have the situation of good practice being embraced and delivered in some areas and very far off the mark in others. Any autistic child not receiving the support they need to thrive must be urgently addressed.”

Nick Ward, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland, said:
“The routine and structure that school provides is often comforting and empowering for many autistic children and its removal has led to distress and upset for many and even challenging behaviour in some cases. Now more than ever autism awareness training for teachers is needed to help ease transition back into school and we urge Government to move forward on this. Without action we risk seeing exclusion levels for autistic children rise which would be an awful legacy of this pandemic.”

Charlene Tait, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Scottish Autism, said:
“We welcome the frank nature of this review. The many parents who are fatigued by the bruising experiences of advocating to have their child’s needs met and who have felt let down by those they are looking to for support will, I hope, feel they have been heard. As we go forward implementation and the monitoring of outcomes will be critical”.
Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact Rob Holland, External Affairs Manager at rob.holland@nas.org.uk

Today’s Independent Review: Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential’

The remit of the review looked at the implementation of the legislation: across early learning and childcare centres, primary, secondary and special schools; the quality of learning and support; the different approaches to planning and assessment; the roles and responsibilities of support staff; and the areas of practice that could be further enhanced through better use of current resources to support practice, staffing or other aspects of provision.
https://www.gov.scot/publications/review-additional-support-learning-implementation/

About the charities’ report: Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report and campaign:

  • The full report is available at www.notengaged.com
  • A total of 1,417 survey responses were received, with responses from every local authority in Scotland.

As part of the charities’ Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved report published in September 2018, a survey of 1,417 parents and carers of autistic children revealed that many autistic children were not receiving the support they need to succeed at school and achieve their potential.

  • More than a third (34%) of respondents said their autistic child had been unlawfully excluded in the last two years - with almost a quarter (22%) saying this happened multiple times a week.
  • 13% of respondents said their autistic child had been formally excluded from school in the last two years.
  • 28% of respondents said their autistic child had been placed on a part-time timetable in the last two years.
  • 85% of respondents said their autistic child did not receive support to catch up on work they had missed.
  • 72% of respondents felt that school staff having a better understanding of how their child’s autism affects them, including their communication needs, could have helped their child.

About the partners:

  • Children in Scotland is the leading national charity working to improve children’s lives. Its vision is that all children have an equal chance to flourish. Children in Scotland manages Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning. www.childreninscotland.org.uk
  • The National Autistic Society Scotland is a leading charity for autistic people in Scotland and their families. They provide local specialist help, information and care across Scotland to autistic people, their families and carers. Their Education Rights Service provides impartial, confidential information, advice and support on education rights and entitlements. www.autism.org.uk
  • Scottish Autism is an organisation dedicated to enriching the lives of autistic people. They are the largest provider of autism-specific services in Scotland, providing a wide range of innovative support for children and adults, including a residential school for autistic pupils in Alloa. Across all of their services there is a focus on improving quality of life. www.scottishautism.org

What is autism?

  • Autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.
  • There are approximately 56,000 autistic people in Scotland.
  • According to the Scottish Government’s 2018 Microsegmentation analysis (P76) there are 6500 autistic children of school age.
  • All autistic people have difficulties with communication and social interaction.
  • Autism is a spectrum condition. This means autistic people have their own strengths and varying and complex needs, from 24-hour care to simply needing clearer communication and a little longer to do things at work and school.
  • Although everyone is different, people on the autism spectrum may:
    • Be under or oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, which can make everyday life extremely difficult
    • be unable to or find it harder to speak, need longer to process information or find it hard to hold conversations
    • experience intense anxiety around unexpected change and in social situations
    • become so overwhelmed that they experience debilitating physical and emotional ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’.
  • Without the right support or understanding, autistic people can miss out on an education, struggle to find work and become extremely isolated.