We should not be surprised that following the description of autism as resulting from extreme male-pattern brain “wiring”, it occurs 4-5 times more often in boys than in girls. If the gender ratio were reversed, would the expulsion of autistic children by schools receive greater attention? Surely it would. A tip of the hat to Paul Morgan-Bentley, Head of Investigations at The Times, for his piece published two days ago:
Charities say that schools are causing irreversible harm to children with autism after a rise in the number that have been expelled.
Almost 4,500 pupils with autism, some as young as five, were excluded in 2015-16, more than twice as many as four years earlier. The figures were obtained by Ambitious about Autism, one of several groups saying that excluding children on the autistic spectrum causes them long-term harm.
This week The Times reported an increase in the number of children aged ten and under excluded from school,including 58 five-year-olds this year. Children of this age excluded in recent years include a girl who hit a teaching assistant and a boy who attacked a teacher with a hockey stick. Often they have conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Thousands of poorly performing pupils are also being excluded in the run-up to GCSEs in an attempt by schools to “game” league tables.
Many who are expelled are sent to pupil referral units, which some experts say are recruiting grounds for gangs.
Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious about Autism, said: “Our evidence suggests that it is currently too easy for schools to ‘off roll’ pupils with impunity. Many children with autism suffer long-lasting anxiety as a result of being pushed out of school.”
The data uncovered by her charity shows that 2,831 children with autistic spectrum disorder were given permanent or fixed-period exclusions in 2011-12. By 2015-16, the latest year for which figures are available, the number was 4,485. Autistic children account for just over 1 per cent of pupils but 2.5 per cent of exclusions.
Ms Lasota said that schools expelling children should be accountable for their grades after they leave. “This could incentivise schools to support children with autism and reset the balance away from exclusion and back to inclusion,” she said.
The National Autistic Society said that an “unacceptably high” number of autistic children were excluded and that this could “hold back their learning and emotional development, in some cases resulting in social isolation and mental health problems, and damage their long-term prospects”.
Jane Harris, of the charity, said: “Every autistic child is different but many become overwhelmed in school — by bright lights, loud noises or other children’s unpredictable behaviour. They can end up behaving in ways that seem naughty or disruptive to others when actually they are overwhelmed or distressed. Good schools give autistic children quiet spaces to retreat to when things become too much and use different communication techniques to reduce their anxiety.”
Schools have justified excluding autistic children under a rule that allowed them to do so when pupils had a “tendency to physical abuse”. Last month a judge ruled in favour of a boy aged 13 with autism who was excluded in 2016 after he punched a teaching assistant and hit her with a ruler.
Jon Spiers, chief executive of Autistica, a charity that funds research, said: “Behaviour that challenges is often an indication of anxiety, pain or distress which the autistic person is unable to express and should be viewed as a symptom of something more profound, not a reason to remove a child from mainstream education.”
Mencap said that children with any special educational needs are six times more likely to be excluded than others. James Robinson, from the charity, said: “This can lead to a whole host of negative outcomes in terms of their education, health and social care. Unfortunately, behaviours are often approached in a reactive way — at the point when a child is at risk of exclusion — rather than as part of a proactive and preventative approach.”
The Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, are investigating exclusion rates. The DfE said that schools “must consider the underlying causes of poor behaviour before excluding a pupil”.
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