Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a highly experienced SEN Advocate. I told her of a parent I know who had been asked to collect her ASD son early from school each day. My friend, Julie Maynard, was outraged. That was, she said, an unofficial exclusion and was illegal. The child was being deprived of a full school day because of his disability.
It reminded me of something that happened to my younger son on the last day he was in mainstream school. They were having the second of two 'Victorian Days' where children had to dress up and, in this instance, have an in-school day as if they were Victorian school-children. We had already been on a school trip, in costume, to a Victoriam Museum and my son had dressed up along with everyone else. So had I, as a parent helper, along for the day. I was chosen I believe, to ensure that there was someone there to keep a special eye on my son, who has Asperger Syndrome.
The day for the second in-school event came and my son flatly refused to wear his outfit, although he was willing to take part in the day. After much negotiation, we decided simply to take his outfit along in case he wanted to put it on later. When we got to school, I found his class teacher and explained why he was in regular school uniform. "I thought this might happen," she said. "Well, we don't want to spoil it for everyone else so he can either spend the day with the year below or you can take him home."
I looked at her in shock. "Do you realise what it took me to get him here today?" I asked. I left with my son and never took him back again. Fortunately, he already had an offer of a place at a specialist school so he started there the following Monday, which was not the measured transition I wanted, but I felt I had no option. How could he go back to a class teacher who obviously had so little understanding of his disability that, despite her suspecting my son would have difficulty, had not thought ahead to help him be included in what was supposed to be a fun day.
Today, I read on the BBC website of a study by the Centre of Social Justice that says some schools in England are "acting illegally or unscrupulously" by excluding pupils by unofficial means. Some schools encourage parents to remove difficult children, avoiding officially excluding them but providing no support. The report, No Excuses: A review of educational exclusion, is based on interviews with more than 100 heads, teachers, parents, pupils, local authority, voluntary and private sector workers. You can also listen for to a podcast of a BBC programme about this.
The CSJ calls for more transparency in the area of school exclusions, saying official figures do not provide an accurate picture of exclusions in some schools. Some schools are "failing to comply with their legal obligations" or are "carrying out unofficial illegal exclusions", it says. It outlined practices which include encouraging parents to withdraw their children from school voluntarily or using part-time schooling arrangements as an alternative to permanent exclusion, when they are meant to be just a short-term measure.
Several local authorities are under investigation for the practice of 'unofficial' exclusions. If your SEN child has been asked to go home early or have a shortened day by the school, with or without your agreement, they are acting illegally. Julie Maynard would like to hear from you about it. Please send your story, local authority and contact details to her via the contact page on this website and I will forward it to her. In the meantime, if you are in this situation, you can contact your school using the wording below: