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Supporting Pupils with Autism

on Thursday, 29 June 2023.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) published their Education Report in May 2023.

The NAS Education Report 2023 aims to understand the principal issues faced by autistic children in schools: sensory overload, understanding (or lack of) among teachers and peers, transitions, bullying and exams representing the biggest challenges.

While the report has heart-breaking stories from children who don't get the right support, and calls for systemic change in education for them, there are many powerful tales of where schools have got it right. Parents spoke of how much difference one teacher can make to the life of their child.

The report is full of practical examples of small adjustments that schools can make which might change the school life of an autistic pupil. These might include the use of exit passes from lessons and quiet rooms for them to go to, fidget toys and uniform changes and avoiding the crowds at lesson change and breaktime. There are also tips about training, exams and transition arrangements. Many are changes that don't cost money, just a change in approach and greater understanding.

With over 180,000 autistic children pupils in England, 73% of whom are in mainstream schools, it is concerning that the NAS report identifies that only 26% of autistic children feel happy at school. Autism is the most common type of special educational need and the NAS are asking the government to set up an Autism School Places Task Force, to help families find an appropriate school for their child, backed up by mandatory autism training for all staff.

There is a useful summary of all of the NAS' recommendations starting at page 41.

What Does This Mean for Schools?

The report does not change the expectations on schools, but it provides a useful and readily accessible best practice update and will help schools to consider reasonable adjustments to enable them to discharge their Equality Act obligations.

Given the high incidence of the condition and the often challenging behaviour by and towards those with autism, it also provides a useful reminder of the need to ensure that a school's policies are drafted with an autism focus in mind, particularly those that deal with behaviour, admissions and exclusions.

For more information or advice on Equality Act issues as they relate to pupils, please contact James Garside in our Education team on 0117 314 5639, or complete the form below.

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