Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism are concerned that autistic children are not having their right to an education fulfilled and are missing a significant and concerning amount of school.
Our concerns led us to work together to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of autistic pupils and their families. We sought to understand the amount of time some autistic pupils are missing from school and the reasons why this has happened, whether alternative arrangements for their education have been put in place, what support has been offered to return to school, and importantly, what the impact on the children and young people and their families has been.
The report Not Included, not engaged, not involved is the result of responses to a national survey of 1,417 parents about children’s experiences of missing school.
Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism wish to thank all the parents and carers who took the time to share their children’s experiences of missing school and the impact this has had on their children and families.
Children in Scotland is the leading national charity working to improve children’s lives. Its vision is that all children in Scotland have an equal chance to flourish. Children in Scotland manages Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning.
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 day and residential school for autistic pupils in Alloa. Across all of their services there is a focus on improving quality of life.
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.
In order to find out more about the realities of education for autistic children missing school in Scotland, we put together a survey aimed at parents and carers of autistic children who have had time out of school in the last two years. Our priority was to gain insight into the experiences of autistic children who have missed time from school, rather than to get a statistical picture of how much this is happening. We already know that this is a serious issue for many families – we wanted to find out what this looks like and what could be done to improve things for them.
A total of 1,417 responses were received, with responses from every local authority in Scotland.
Findings from the 1,417 responses received from parents show that:
said their children had been formally excluded from school in the last two years
told us their child had been unlawfully excluded in the previous two years
told us their child had been placed on a part-time timetable in the last two years
said that their child had missed school for reasons other than common childhood illness in the last two years
did not receive support to catch up on work they had missed, regardless of the type of absence
felt that staff having a better understanding of how thier child's autism affects them, including their communication needs, would have made a difference to their child
Of the 185 parents who said their child had been formally excluded, almost three quarters (74%) said this had happened on more than one occasion.
Of the 478 parents who said their child had been unlawfully excluded, the majority (85%) of parents said this had happened more than once.
Of the 394 parents who said their child had been placed on a part-time timetable, more than half (55%) said this had been for more than 6 months.
We believe that autistic children should be included, engaged and involved in their education. The nine calls for action set out below will help to make this a reality. These calls, if implemented, will make significant improvements to the educational experiences of autistic children, so that autistic children and their families throughout Scotland can thrive.
We believe that in order to end the use of unlawful exclusions in Scotland’s schools and enable autistic children to access the education they deserve, immediate action needs to be taken to ensure that they are properly included, engaged and involved in their education. We have therefore written an open letter to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, calling on him to work with education authorities and education professionals to implement the calls for action outlined in our report in order to address the barriers autistic children face in accessing education.
Stop the use of unlawful exclusions and inappropriate use of part-time timetables
Reduce the number of formal exclusions of children with additional support needs
Improve the availability of specialist teachers
Review the availability of appropriate placements for autistic children
Enhance programmes of initial teacher training and Continual Professional Development to improve understanding of autism
Reinstate a minimum number of hours of education for children out of school
Improve access to online learning
Use of whole school approaches to raise awareness and understanding of pupils with additional support needs, including autism
Awareness raising of children’s rights to additional support for learning with children, young people and families
The impact of pupils missing school should not be underestimated. Responses to the survey show the devasting impact missing school can have on both the learning and wellbeing of children and the wellbeing of their families:
“Total lack of support let my child down. Lack of communication to us when his agreed support was cut all had a devastating effect on my son which eventually resulted in him being asked to leave school.”
“Multiple schools asked me to take my son home, many times, because they didn't have the support, knowledge or training to deal with his needs, anxiety, or behaviour.”
“The whole situation has caused me major stress and anxiety and feeling depressed. My other children have suffered.”
“After the shorter absences there was no support which just made his anxiety worse, leading to more absences.”
“In her one and a half years of secondary school she has only had the first five months of education. She has no social circle. She has very high anxiety surrounding school.”
“He feels alienated and treated differently from other pupils. He says he is a "bad boy". Finds it difficult to catch up (he also has dyslexia and ADHD) so falls further behind with his work. Then he feels he doesn’t want to go to school as everyone calls him stupid.”
If you have any questions about the report or any media enquiries, please complete the contact form below.
If you are looking for advice about a child that is currently missing school please contact:
0808 800 4102 (National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service)
Scottish Autism Advice line: 01259 222022