A new report by the National Autistic Society has revealed that thousands of parents across the country are facing exhausting battles, that can last for years, to get support for their autistic children in school.

The findings are based on the survey responses of more than 4,000 parents, carers, autistic children and young people and highlights the need for a system that works for autistic children and young people.

A quarter of parents waited over three years to receive support for their child

The report found that of the 160,000 autistic pupils in schools across England, over 70% are in mainstream school, with the rest in specialist education, home educated or out of education altogether.

In total, around three quarters (74%) of parents said that their child’s school did not fully meet their needs; a figure that has doubled since the National Autistic Society’s previous report in 2017. Parents also reported great difficulties when trying to get help, with 57% saying they had to wait more than a year for support and 26% waiting over three years.

Many families reported turning to expensive and stressful legal action to seek such support, sometimes having to wait months or even years for anything to happen. In fact, government figures show that nearly half (47%) of appeals to the SEND tribunal were for an autistic child.

The survey’s results reinforced this picture, finding that two in five parents who were refused an Education Health and Care assessment said they’d appealed to the SEND Tribunal, with the local authority conceding before the hearing in most cases.

Many autistic children face being shut out of the education system altogether

The Covid-19 pandemic was found to have a profound impact on the learning and mental health of autistic children, with 44% of parents saying their child had fallen behind with work and 59% saying their child was more socially isolated than before.

Without support, many autistic children face being shut out of the education system altogether. One in five parents responding to the survey said their child had been informally excluded (sent home or told not to come in) at least once in the past two years.

According to 70% of the autistic pupils who responded to the survey, the biggest thing that would make school better is having a teacher who understands autism.

Other key findings of the of autistic children and young people’s survey include:

  • Over half (54%) said they don’t have a quiet place to go to at school;
  • Around one in 12 (8%) think other pupils don’t know enough about autism;
  • Around half (51%) would like help in school to understand how to get on with friends and classmates;
  • Almost half (48%) said they would like help planning for adult life.

"The system is broken, the Government must act"

The National Autistic Society say the government must intervene with its upcoming SEND review in order to prevent autistic children from further falling behind or being withdrawn from mainstream schooling for good.

They would also like to see the implementation of specialised teacher training with the reinstatement of autism in the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) core content framework.

Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “The education system simply isn’t working for autistic children and their families, and things have been made even harder by coronavirus.

“We won’t accept a world where so many autistic children are falling behind and so many families are being left exhausted and on the edge of crisis. The Government’s upcoming SEND review is an opportunity to change things, to live up to the promise of the 2014 reforms which were never implemented properly. The system is broken, the Government must act.”