We must keep pushing for more autism education says charity leader, amid growing anger and confusion over Government SEND plans

with Jolanta Lasota, CEO, Ambitious About Autism

There is an information vacuum from the Department for Education about what’s going on with its SEND Improvement Plan. And, as nature abhors a vacuum, the information gap is filled with rumour, fear, and growing fury that nothing has changed for the better for families.

However, it’s clear for all to see from the recent EHCP figures, and from cuts to services, that things are getting worse. Is it any wonder that parents are protesting? Their children get one shot at a school education but for too many, often autistic, pupils there is no school that will take them or that can support their needs.

Post-pandemic, needs are becoming intensified and more complex, especially for those struggling with the brain fog and energy depletion of Long Covid, on top of two years of disrupted school and any existing SEND needs. They don’t need more worry over potentially losing educational rights that upcoming trials of system change bring.

As Ambitious About Autism CEO, Jolanta Lasota stresses in her article for SNJ today, whatever you are told, your child’s rights remain intact. Jolanta also updates us on their campaign to boost autism training in schools that, even now, is nowhere near what it needs to be to ensure autistic children can get the education they’re entitled to…


Why we must keep pressure on decision-makers to ensure autistic pupils aren’t written off at school by Jolanta Lasota, Ambitious About Autism

It’s been three months since the government published its long-awaited SEND and AP Improvement Plan, but the situation for young people with SEND and their families shows no sign of improving.

As new Department for Education data shows, there are 1.5 million pupils in England with special educational needs and disabilities – an increase of 77,000 from 2021. Yet half of these children are waiting beyond the legal deadline for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. Autism is the most common type of need of those with an EHCP, so there will be many autistic pupils facing the consequences of these delays. They are struggling at school without the right support, or missing education as they wait for a school placement to be agreed.   

Meanwhile, DfE data shows that outstanding SEND tribunals are up 70% in just a year as parents seek to access their rights and challenge unlawful decisions by their local authorities. To make matters worse, as they prepare to fight gruelling battles for support, parents are experiencing derision and hostility from officials for seeking basic educational rights for their children. 

Jolanta Lasota with a black short bob
Jolanta Lasota, CEO of Ambition about Autism. Credit: Felix Lozano

Parents at breaking point

It’s no wonder that many parents have reached breaking point and will be taking to the streets this week for the SEND day of protest outside Parliament. As a general election looms, we are determined to support struggling families and push SEND support higher up the public policy agenda of the major political parties. 

We launched our Written Off? campaign to keep pressure on decision-makers to protect SEND funding and families’ existing legal rights – in the face of some worrying new proposals in the SEND Review. Nearly 8,000 people have signed our petition, and we’re calling for more to add their names. Please sign up here if you haven’t already. 

The future of the SEND system

A key concern is that government may limit the choice of SEND provision for autistic children and young people and their families through the trialling of reforms - notably, tailored lists of available specialist schools. Over half (57%) of families we surveyed said these tailored lists would not result in their child getting a school place that works for them. Many parents are concerned the lists will prioritise cost over support needs.

However, as the government presses ahead with trials of its reforms, it is vital that families of children and young people with SEND understand that their rights remain unchanged while these reforms are in the trial stage – including their right to express a preference for their choice of school in their EHC plan.

Teacher training

One of the biggest factors in determining whether an autistic child succeeds and makes progress at school is how well their autism is understood by their teachers. However, recent research by the National Autistic Society shows that just 39% of teachers had received more than half a day’s autism training, and this figure drops to 14% for secondary school teachers.

Six in 10 autistic young people say that the main thing that would make school better for them would be having a teacher who understood autism. Trade union research also shows that SEND training is top of teachers’ wish lists for their additional development.

For these reasons, we are focused on making mandatory training on autism for all educational professionals our key priority as the political parties formulate their manifestos.  

We are delighted to be supporting Duncan Baker MP to introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill in September on mandatory teacher training on autism, as well as early autism diagnosis. It is very rare for Ten Minute Rule Bills to become law, but it is a great way to raise important issues, and we are very grateful to Mr Baker for getting autism diagnosis and mandatory training for teachers on the agenda as a general election approaches. 

We are determined to stand with autistic children and young people, and with the SEND community, to mobilise ahead of the next election, ensuring our collective voices are heard.

We will be scrutinising the latest developments in the government’s SEND Improvement Plan trials and we urge affected families and young people to sign our Written Off? petition as we continue to fight to protect SEND rights and funding.

Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism

Ambitious about Autism is the national charity standing with autistic children and young people. We believe every autistic child and young person has the right to be themselves and realise their ambitions. We started as one school and have become a movement for change. We champion rights, campaign for change and create opportunities.  

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