Research shows that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are twice as likely to be regularly, and unlawfully, excluded from school for a fixed term than their neurotypical peers.
The University of Birmingham’s Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER) in the UK looked into the causes and implications of exclusions for autistic pupils, discovering that at least 25% of parents reported unofficial or illegal exclusions of their children.
Over the last five years every region in England has seen an increase in the number of school exclusions for pupils on the spectrum of between 45% and 100%.
Lifelong impact for autistic pupils
ACER Director Professor Karen Guldberg led the research and stated: “The impact of exclusions on autistic pupils and their families is profound and can be lifelong – juggling financial pressure with taking time off work and coping with the family’s mental health. We have spoken to many people who are often left feeling very isolated, unable to interact with friends and let down by the education system.
“These are unusual times in terms of restricted budgets and the impact of COVID-19, which has exacerbated this issue. However, we need a co-ordinated and concerted effort by school leadership, staff, specialist services, and families to help children stay in school and progress.”
The report also shows many autistic adults are still emotionally affected by exclusion during their school years. Many feel a sense of injustice and anger and believe exclusion has had a negative impact on their future success.
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Recommendations to policymakers, local authorities, and educators
The researchers are making the following recommendations to policymakers, local authorities, and educators in England, including:
- Provide national and individual school guidance on exclusion policy related to autism and more broadly on SEN and SEMH
- Create good practice guidelines on how and what to communicate to families and pupils at each stage of the exclusion process, to ensure essential information is passed on at appropriate times
- Make it a legal requirement for schools to use a specific code for recording absence due to pupils being on part-time timetables
- Provide clearer guidance to schools as to the decision process they should be undertaking when making exclusions (i.e. justifying their reasons).
- Provide guidance on how senior leadership should be including statements on SEND and autism within school behavior policies and how to train their staff on the matter
- Introduce greater independent monitoring of schools’ exclusion processes and interventions when illegal exclusions occur
Huw Merriman MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, was presented with the findings and said: “Exclusions can have a devastating and lifelong impact on autistic children and their futures and should only ever be an absolute last resort. We must do all we can to stop this negative trend, especially improving support for autistic children and young people and making sure that all school staff have a good understanding of autism.”
References: Guldberg et al. Investigation of the causes and implications of exclusion for autistic children and young people. University of Birmingham Autism Centre for Education and Research. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/documents/college-social-sciences/education/reports/causes-and-implications-of-exclusion-for-autistic-children-and-young-people.pdf