Why Are So Many Autistic Children Being 'Robbed of Their Education' by Our Schools? SPECIAL REPORT:Thousands of Children on the Autistic Spectrum Are Being Temporarily Excluded from the Classroom Illegally Because Schools Don't Know How to Support Them, Reports Mel Hunter

The Mirror (London, England), June 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Why Are So Many Autistic Children Being 'Robbed of Their Education' by Our Schools? SPECIAL REPORT:Thousands of Children on the Autistic Spectrum Are Being Temporarily Excluded from the Classroom Illegally Because Schools Don't Know How to Support Them, Reports Mel Hunter


Byline: Mel Hunter

While most children went back to school this week after the half-term holiday, Josh Moore wasn't among them.

Four years ago, he was a happy nine-year-old thriving in a mainstream primary school. As with most boisterous young boys, his behaviour occasionally gave teachers cause for concern, but Josh was settled and doing well in lessons.

But then he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome - a form of autism - and his happy schooldays were suddenly over.

He was sent home from class nearly every day with little or no warning and mum Clare was constantly being phoned by the school and asked to fetch her son.

Now, aged 13, he has dropped out of the school system altogether.

Clare has since learnt that these 'temporary exclusions' are actually illegal, but the catastrophic effect on Josh's schooling will never be undone.

She is just one of tens of thousands of parents in the UK struggling to educate a child who is on the autistic spectrum of behavioural problems. Four in 10 parents surveyed by the charity Ambitious about Autism for its 'Ruled Out' campaign reported that their autistic child had been illegally barred from attending school during the previous year. One in 10 of them said it happened every day.

And many had been barred from going on school trips or taking part in social activities. With more than 70,000 school-age children with autism in England, that means 28,000 children are potentially being robbed of the education they are entitled to.

One in five families surveyed by the charity said their autistic child had been formally excluded in the last year.

And that's just autism. In general, children with special educational needs are up to 11 times more likely to be permanently excluded, despite schools having a legal obligation to do all they can to meet their needs.

While schools have the right to formally exclude a child, it should only be treated as a last resort, in consultation with parents and the local authority.

Instead, Ambitious about Autism's research suggests many schools are barring children simply as a way of managing their behaviour.

Clare, 34, from Birmingham, feels the system has failed Josh completely.

The impromptu exclusions hit after his Asperger's diagnosis.

Within a few months, Clare was called in to take Josh home on an almost daily basis. "I tried to negotiate a part-time timetable to help the school, but in reality they'd just phone me the day before and tell me if Josh was 'allowed' to go to school," she says. "Sometimes they would say things like, 'We have a special assembly tomorrow and don't think Josh will cope, so don't bring him in'."

Clare, a former midwife who is also mum to Jordan, 15, and Oscar, five, said: "He wasn't hurting anyone. I'd typically get a phone call to collect him because he wouldn't come out of the classroom at playtime or because he was tapping with his ruler in class. After his diagnosis, we thought the school would look after him and help us find our way with autism, but it was the opposite. He was in his last year of primary school and the staff just washed their hands of him. Within a year, his schooling had totally fallen apart."

Clare and her husband Richard pinned their hopes on a new start at secondary school. But after a promising first term, Josh experienced 13 fixed-term exclusions - documented, legal suspensions - and Clare pulled him out of school in June last year before he was expelled. "My only option was to home educate," she says.

"The education system failed him. As a mum you just want your child to enjoy childhood, but Josh became so unhappy. In my view, that was because he was not supported at school.

"What makes it even sadder is that we are far from alone. Autism is so well recognised nowadays, it is hard to believe there is such ignorance among those who should be helping the most. …

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