How bad do the statistics need to get? How many more reports and surveys need to be generated before school communities collectively seek solutions from the basic starting point: that all children have a right to education and given the right environment, all children will learn.
The report from the National Autistic Society released earlier this week, highlights what we already know – that the national exclusion figures don’t show the whole picture. Alongside published formal exclusion rates, this report found that more than one in five parents reported that their child had been informally excluded at least once in the last 2 years. What message is that sending future generations? That exclusion is an acceptable solution? How do we expect society to be more inclusive as adults when we’re sending the wrong message to children, by not enabling them to learn alongside each other at school?
Reducing school placement breakdown is one of the pillars of our 2025 strategy, addressing the needs of the school environment in conjunction with the needs of the child. We want to see schools empowered to seek solutions that will allow children to stay in education and get the support they need quicker. Organisations such as ours have those solutions. So why are these conversations not happening? Why are the processes to engage with the range of autism provision available not working? And if they aren’t the right solutions, why are we not being engaged to innovate, based on the needs of a local area?
The government recently pledged funds for 30,000 more specialist school places over the next three years. This only addresses one facet of the challenge. What is being pledged to facilitate access to the existing resource, to address the 3-4 year wait that families are facing to get a basic level of support? Will part of the £75 million put forward by the government for the first year of their new National Strategy for Autistic Children, Young People and Adults be put towards ensuring solutions that already exist are accessible to all?
This involves everybody. We need to all wake up and understand the long-term message we are sending to the next generation. We need to create a culture where accessing the right education is the starting point and that breaking the cycle of prejudice will ensure inclusion sits at the centre.