With the latest news that exclusions are on the rise, we must consider the very real impact that exclusion has on students with autism. The figures from ambitious about autism suggest that in the last twelve months alone 40% of students with autism have experienced a period of exclusion from school. Government statistics show that overall students with SEN are six times more likely to be excluded than those with no special needs. These are frightening figures. I genuinely believe that the staff involved with those students have tried their best. But what we need to ask ourselves is is our best good enough?
Teachers receive very little training in dealing with students with SEN, and even less in identifying those students. In fact a recent article in ‘Young Minds’ reveals that over 20% of those diagnosed with autism are not diagnosed until after their 11th birthday. Of those who are diagnosed many do not meet the threshold for an ECHP. The reality is that until a child fails they do not qualify for support. We (the teaching profession) are not allowed to be pre-emptive.
Over my teaching career, in both EBD and ASD specific settings I have been staggered by the number of students who arrive with me at 11 unable to read and write. Not because these students are unable to learn but because they have been unable to access the specialist support they need until they hit crisis point. It isn’t rocket science to realise that a student who hits puberty unable to do their work is more likely to act out than admit they can’t read. And yet, until they do act out, until they lose control again and again and a school feels they cannot cope they do not receive the help they need. The threshold for a CAMHs referral is increasingly high, waiting lists are increasingly long, social services will not offer families help (even when they ask for it) unless a child is at risk, and we are operating in an education system that values facts and figures over the needs of individuals.
So yes these teachers are doing their best, by the time they exclude I am in no doubt that they feel it is the only choice open to them. But are we as a society doing our best for the most vulnerable members of that society?
There needs to be change. There needs to be a shift. Support needs to be put in earlier before these students hit crisis point. All teachers need compulsory training in identifying and working with students with SEN. I believe in inclusion. The principles of it are everything I stand for. But in order for it to work, we cannot simply put students into mainstream schools and cross our fingers. We cannot have a system where our most vulnerable students continue to be taught primarily by LSAs. We cannot have a system where schools are forced to exclude because it is the only way of getting help for pupils.
So there you have it, my rant. Tomorrow I will return to the business at hand, tomorrow I will focus on differentiation, I will focus on the small ways I can make a difference to the lives of both my students and my daughter. But today I am angry; angry at a system not built to meet the needs of our children, angry at a society that allows it to be that way, angry at myself for not being able to make more of a difference.