Autistic pupils' experiences of missing school

The National Autistic Society Scotland reports on the results of a survey of parents/carers of autistic pupils, which aimed to gain an insight into the experiences of autistic children who have missed time from school in Scotland.

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Author: The National Autistic Society Scotland

Autistic pupils' experiences of missing school

Research by Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism has revealed that more than a third (34%) of parents reported that their children had been unlawfully excluded in the last two years – with almost a quarter (22%) saying this happened multiple times a week. The parents were responding to a survey on the experiences of autistic children missing school

An ‘unlawful’ exclusion is when a school sends a child home without using the formal exclusion process, meaning monitoring and support systems are bypassed. Scottish Government guidance is clear on its position that unlawful exclusions should not happen – yet they are happening to autistic children across Scotland. 

Experiences of parents/carers

Pamela’s son, Kyle, is autistic. She said:

Kyle is only six but he’s already at his second school. The first school treated him like he had an infectious disease. He was left in a room by himself all day, away from the lesson and his friends. One day he came home and told me he was meant to be alone. It was heart-breaking.


“When I complained, the school suggested that he should only do half days, which is a form of unlawful exclusion. This put a lot of pressure on me as a working parent, and it was a relief when I found him a place in a school where staff actually understand autism and want to ensure autistic children receive an education.

The survey of 1,417 parents and carers of autistic children also revealed that:

  • 13% of respondents said their autistic child had been formally excluded from school in the last two years
  • 28% of respondents said their autistic child had been placed on a part-time timetable in the last two years
  • 85% of respondents said their autistic child did not receive support to catch up on work they had missed
  • 72% of respondents felt that school staff having a better understanding of how their child’s autism affects them, including their communication needs, could have helped their child.

Impact on children and families

Some of the most concerning findings from the survey can be found in the comments from parents about the impact their child missing school has had on their child’s wellbeing and that of their families. Over 1,500 comments were received to the two questions addressing these issues.

The most common concern of parents related to their child’s anxiety and stress levels. Many comments mentioned a lack of support making school difficult for their children. Particular issues mentioned include lack of funding, unsuitable placements or lack of skills or knowledge to support a child. 

The school not supporting my child has been the main cause of school refusal. She is happy not to go to school. School itself is making her physically ill.

It is also concerning that a significant number of parents highlighted in their responses, that due to requests to pick up their child from school or stay at home to look after them, they were unable to work, had to reduce their hours or give up work all together. Children being out of school is having a direct impact on family’s financial situations.

I have severe anxiety caused by the stress of him not going to school. I can’t go out to work as I need to be at home for him. This causes us extreme financial pressure.

Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved

The three charities have published a report, Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved, based on their findings. They are calling for Scottish Government to work with local education authorities and education professionals to address the barriers to autistic children accessing a fulfilling education - and stop the use of unlawful exclusions.

The report sets out nine calls for action that, if implemented, would likely make significant improvements in the educational experiences of autistic children, so that autistic children and their families throughout Scotland can thrive. These include:

  • stopping the use of unlawful exclusions and inappropriate use of part-time timetables
  • improving the availability of specialist teachers
  • reviewing the availability of appropriate placements for autistic children
  • enhancing programmes of initial teacher training and continual professional development to improve understanding of autism

The charities are also encouraging the public to sign an open letter they have written urging the Deputy First Minster and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, to work with the relevant agencies to implement these calls for action.

Date added: 25 September 2018



Wed, 17/10/2018 - 21:50

What about autistic children who school-refuse because they cannot cope in mainstream or are not given sufficient support or reasonable adjustments?  That's akin to constructive dismissal.