National autism charities say this increase is “incredibly troubling”, but they are even more concerned that these figures don’t show “illegal exclusions” taking place, which are not reported to authorities.
Sarah Lambert, head of policy at the National Autistic Society (NAT), said every child with autism needs to be in a school where the teachers understand them.
“These new Government statistics are incredibly troubling,” she told HuffPost UK.
“When a person’s needs aren’t met, they can become overwhelmed and ‘melt down’ which leads to difficult behaviour which others may think is naughty or disruptive.”
Official figures obtained by charity Ambitious about Autism showed a year-on-year rise in exclusions for young people with autism over the last three years.
From 2013/14 to 2015/16, the rise in permanent exclusions for pupils with autism as a primary special educational need (SEN) was 36.4%. The number of fixed period exclusions rose from 6,150 to 9,040 in the same time period - a rise of 24.69%.
Lambert added: “When children and young people on the autism spectrum have problems at school, it is often because their school doesn’t have a good enough understanding of autism or their placement isn’t appropriate for their needs.”
Elizabeth Archer, campaigns and policy director at Ambitious about Autism, said children and young people with autism deserve equal access to education. She said it is “very worrying” that the number of recorded exclusions for these children is going up.
However, Archer said the charity is particularly concerned as parents regularly contact them to talk about exclusions that are unrecorded so don’t appear in these figures. The charity defines these “illegal exclusions” as any exclusion, regardless of the reason for it or how long it is, that is not formally recorded.
They stated that a school cannot send a child home to “cool off” or ask a parent to collect a child from school before the normal end of the school day or bring them in late without formally recording this as an exclusion. If a child is sent home and the parent don’t get written communication about it, the head teacher is essentially breaking the law.
Archer said: “We hear about children who are sent home early, or asked not to come in for school trips, and who as a result are missing out on vital learning experiences. Failing to record an exclusion is unlawful, and parents tell us that when this happens they don’t know where to go for help.
“Our guidance supports parents to make school governors, Ofsted and the secretary of state aware of unlawful practice, so they can work together to stop it. Hopefully this is the first step in stamping out unlawful practices and giving autistic pupils an equal chance to thrive in education.”
When the charities were asked why they believed there was a rise in the number of legal exclusions, both said they were unable to comment on this without evidence or research.
Lambert said to stop children with autism being excluded, every child needs to be in a school with teachers who understand autism, and local councils must ensure that they develop a range of different provision locally, so that the right setting can be found for every child.
“Exclusions can have a big impact on autistic children, keeping them out of school for long periods which affects their learning, development and long-term prospects,” she said.
“It’s important that schools are encouraged to understand and support their autistic students, rather than resorting to exclusion.”