It was a big day for me and Debs yesterday - two launches, some laughs and one inspiring speech that reminded us, if we needed it, that the right educational support can mean the difference between a life on benefits and a life making a contribution to society.
Debs was hosting a 'soft' launch of a new website, 'Bringing Us Together' with disability campaigner Katie Clarke and she'll be reporting on that here after the official launch next week.
Champion that she is, Debs broke off to collect me from Waterloo. It was my first time using South West Train's Assisted Travel with my wheelchair, but it's manual and elbow joint pain stops me wheeling myself far. I have my electric one picked out, I just have to pay for it - I'm sure many of you can empathise with that!
So, having spent some time talking 'BUT', off we headed, Debs gamely pushing while I marvelled that this really was the best way to see London. I'm lucky she didn't give me a close-up of the Thames. Don't miss the photo gallery at the end!
It was good to catch up briefly with Susan Spence, whom we met last year when we were invited to meet SEN Minister, Ed Timpson MP to talk about the Children & Families Bill. We hope that had some impact on the development of the Bill, but who knows?
We've long supported the fantastic charity Ambitious about Autism who were launching their #ruledout campaign to highlight the disproportionate number of children with autism who are excluded from school, both formally and through 'informal' and illegal school exclusion.
— AmbitiousAboutAutism (@AmbitiousAutism) February 11, 2014
Informal exclusion means for example, the child being sent home for the afternoon, to 'cool off', being put on part-time timetables or missing out on school trips because staff can't cope with them.
Many parents of "normal" children are only too happy that this happens so the child doesn't disrupt their own son or daughter and the rest of the class. But what about the excluded child? Is it okay for them to miss out on chunks of their education because the staffing levels or training are inadequate?
In fact, you could also consider a child informally excluded if they are actually in the class but can't access the curriculum that's being taught in the same way as other children, with no differentiation made to help them. Is it any wonder they find school difficult?
Ambitious About Autism carried out a survey of 500 parents that revealed
- 4 in 10 children with autism have been excluded informally and therefore illegally during their time at school.
- 20% of children with autism have been formally excluded in the past 12 months.
- Over half of parents of children with autism say they have kept their child out of school for fear that the school is unable to provide appropriate support
Shocking, isn't it? AaA have made a series of recommendations for schools and local authorities to ensure children with autism get the same access to school as all children. Their campaign will also create resources for parents, schools and local authorities to help support children with autism at school and they've already launched a Guide for parents.
What's the point of the campaign?
Ambitious about Autism is asking parents, teachers, schools and policy makers to support their campaign aims so that:
- Every family of a child with autism knows their rights, and has the resources to help their child get the support they are entitled to at school
- Every school has access to an autism specialist teacher, to build capacity among schools staff and to support children with autism to learn and achieve
- Every local authority sets out in its local offer the support available in its area to ensure children with autism have access to quality full-time education.
The Local Offer remember, is the offer of all available services for children and young people with SEN or disabilities that each authority needs to publish under the new SEN system from September 2014.
The launch, hosted by Graham Stuart MP, the chairman of the Education Select Committee was well attended by MPs and well known figures/campaigners in the SEN world. Even the Commons Speaker, John Bercow MP, whose son has autism and who along with his wife, Sally, has raised awareness for the condition, put in an attendance.
Dami Benbow, Youth Patron: "You can judge a society based on how it treats those who are different" #ruledout
— AmbitiousAboutAutism (@AmbitiousAutism) February 11, 2014
But the person who made the most impact on me was Ambitious about Autism Youth Patron, Dami Benbow. A young man with Asperger Syndrome, Dami gave an impassioned speech, without notes, about the difference that getting the right support had meant to him.
Dami,* from South London, is now in his final year at University. He spoke of how, without the right support he could have ended up hopeless, unemployed or potentially even a gang member as he sought his place in society.
Instead, he is studying hard, making his mark already as a young politician (even if he doesn't yet realise it) and even gave me some good advice for my own son with AS.
The aims of the #ruledout campaign are pretty simple and are not asking for anything more than a child without additional needs expects and gets every day of their school lives - appropriate teaching and access to resources that can help them learn and achieve their potential.
Who wouldn't want that for their child? Why not add your name to the campaign pledge and help make that a reality for every child with autism?
What's your experience of exclusion - official or unofficial for your special needs child?
*We aim to bring you more of Dami's speech soon
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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