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Government guidance says that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, schools should not permanently exclude pupils with special educational needs (SEN), whether or not they have a statement. Despite this pupils who have SEN are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than other pupils according to latest Government statistics (2006/7 published June 2008).
Children on the autism spectrum are disproportionately affected by exclusions from school. According to a 2005 study 27 per cent have been excluded from school, compared with 4% of other children. In a survey for the NAS Make School Make Sense report of nearly 1300 parents of children on the autism spectrum, two thirds of those children who had been excluded had received more than one fixed term exclusion, and 16% had been excluded more than ten times, or so many times their parents had lost count. Of children in the survey who had been excluded, a third had missed a term or more of school and one in ten had missed more than a whole school year over the last two years alone.
The NAS report said that in many cases such exclusions represented a failure on the part of their educational setting to provide appropriate support and training. Exclusions often resulted from a lack of understanding on the part of teachers, learning support staff and supervisory staff of the social and communication impairments experienced by children on the autism spectrum. The finding was supported by a 2006 survey of National Union of Teachers members which showed that 44% of teachers did not feel confident teaching children on the autism spectrum.
The law and guidance on exclusion
The law and statutory guidance allows headteachers to exclude a child from school permanently where the child has seriously broken the school behaviour policy and allowing them to stay in school would seriously harm the education of welfare of the pupil or other people in the school. Other members of staff do not have the power to exclude unless they are standing in for the head. Headteachers may also exclude for a fixed period of up to a total of 45 days in a school year for breaches of the school behaviour policy.
Parents may put their case to the governing body of the school for all types of exclusion. For permanent exclusions they have the right to appeal to an independent appeal panel which also hears cases of disability discrimination related to permanent exclusion of a disabled pupil. The First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) hears claims of disability discrimination involving fixed period exclusions and all types of exclusions from independent schools. Claims involving state education are taken against the governing bodies of schools or local authorities.
Schools may not exclude for a reason related to a child’s disability and must take care to make reasonable adjustments to policies that may discriminate against disabled pupils. For example, a policy that provides an automatic sanction for a particular offence may need to be varied if its application to a disabled pupil might treat him less favourably than another pupil for a reason related to his disability. The policy might appear to have the advantage of consistency, but may discriminate because it fails to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils.
Schools should plan proactively how the school’s disciplinary framework should be applied for pupils on the autism spectrum and ensure that all those in contact with the pupil know what has been agreed. They should make sure that every vulnerable pupil has a key person in school who knows them well, has good links with the home, and can act as a reference point for staff when they are unsure about how to apply the disciplinary framework.
All policies, including those relating to behaviour management, should take account of the needs of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities. Governing bodies and school staff need to review their policies and monitor exclusions to ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled children.
Schools also need to be alert to the range of ways in which incidents that might lead to an exclusion can be avoided, for example, whole school training on the communication needs of pupils on the autism spectrum may help to avoid difficulties between staff and students and may represent a reasonable adjustment that schools might be expected to make. A failure to communicate the need to make adjustments might put the school at risk of discriminating against disabled pupils. This is particularly so when encounters around the school bring pupils into contact with staff who do not work with them on a regular basis in the classroom. Government guidance on behaviour policies (link below) recommends effective school information systems.
Behaviour support to prevent exclusion
Addressing behaviour difficulties entails looking at what the child/ young person, the school, parents or carers and other agencies might do differently together, in order to reduce the impact of difficulties on attainment, health and wellbeing. School staff who can offer support to pupils vulnerable to exclusion include pastoral staff or specialists such as the SENCO, learning mentor or Higher Level Teaching Assistant. Parents can support the school’s work in developing emotional, social and behavioural skills by reinforcing them at home and by helping their child develop insight into their difficulties. Multi-agency working should ensure children and families can access a range of services outside school too including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, educational psychology, behaviour support, social care services, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
Government exclusion guidance recommends that schools seek local authority and other advice where a pupil with SEN is at risk of exclusion. They should consider requesting statutory assessment which may lead to a diagnosis of an underlying disability or SEN and, where a child already has a statement, liaise with the local authority about holding an interim review.
School governing bodies must use their best endeavours to ensure that the necessary provision is made for any pupil who has SEN. Emotional and behaviour difficulties are among the categories which represent a learning difficulty as identified by the SEN Code of Practice. The majority of children and young people with such difficulties should be considered to have SEN if they require additional or different educational arrangements or interventions from those that are generally offered in a mainstream school.
Schools also need to be alert to the possibility that behavioural difficulties may mask an underlying disability or SEN. Schools and early years settings need to be proactive in seeking out information about any underlying disability. The Common Assessment Framework may be used as part of a pastoral support programme or at an earlier stage.
Mainstream schools can improve the skills of their staff in understanding and managing the behaviour of children with disabilities such as autism by seeking advice from special schools and arranging reciprocal training, opportunities for secondment and consultation, and exchange of best practice in such areas as curriculum development.
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TeacherNet offers the following guidance:
Revised guidance on the education of children and young people with behavioual, emotional and social difficulties (BESD)which suggests the following ways schools can improve behaviour and preventing exclusion:
- Whole-school approaches such as the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme for promoting the development of social and emotional skills, positive behaviour, attendance, learning and the mental health of all children.
- Support via extended schools
- A graduated approach to providing help in line with the SEN Framework.
- Personalised learning and teaching which involves taking a highly structured and responsive approach to each child's and young person's learning.
- Making use of National Curriculum flexibilities, and modifications for individual children
- Curriculum content and experiences for pupils with BESD should emphasise personal development and essential life skills.
- Identifying training needs which may help staff improve support for children with SEN
- Working with local authorities to reduce exclusion of children with SEN if monitoring data indicates that this is a problem.
The National Strategies initiative is providing a four-year programme of continuing professional development (CPD) designed to increase the confidence and expertise of mainstream practitioners in meeting high incidence SEN, including dyslexia and speech, language and communication needs and this year, autism. As well as communication being fundamental to learning and progression, frustration born of inability to communicate can contribute to erratic or unpredictable behaviour in class. It is envisaged that the programme will specifically address behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.
The aim of the programme is to support schools and early years settings through web-based materials, which will include:
- teaching and learning resources
- training materials
- guidance on effective classroom strategies
- models of good practice for multi-disciplinary teams
- information about sources of more specialist advice.
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Behaviour policies guidance
Improving Behaviour and Attendance, 2008: Guidance for schools on exclusions law and procedures
Improving Behaviour in Schools Information from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) about policies to promote inclusion and learning through positive behaviour
Understanding and managing behaviour problems in children and young people with autistic spectrum disorders
Author: Social Communication Disorders Clinic, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group.
Published by: Great Ormond Street Hospital Trust, Institute of Child Health
Date: Last updated August 2007
Promoting Children’s Mental Health within Early Years and School Settings
Explains how teachers and others, working alongside other agencies as appropriate, can promote children and young people’s mental health and can intervene effectively with those experiencing problems. It provides case studies of children and young people whose behaviour, social and/or emotional development is causing concern and suggests strategies to address both the presenting behaviour and the underlying causes.
Pastoral support programmes are among those behaviour management tools which schools are expected to put in place for pupils at risk of disaffection or exclusion. Guidance on PSPs.
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Derbyshire file covers behavioural issues
A file which gives advice to teachers and classroom assistants on how to support and teach pupils on the autism spectrum has been given to all schools by Derbyshire County Council. The Derbyshire File for Autism Friendly Schools has been written by one of the authority’s educational psychologist and a specialist outreach teacher, to assist with teaching in Derbyshire schools. It explains the difficulties pupils on the autism spectrum meet at different stages of their school life; how to set up an autism friendly school environment and classroom; behavioural issues, trouble shooting and problem solving.
Tower Hamlets school’s “person-centred” curriculum
London Regional Partnership report In Practice, issue 5 2006 describes the case of a small primary school in Tower Hamlets which designed a “person-centred” curriculum around the needs of one boy - whom they were waiting to get into a primary SEBD school. This proved so successful (in retaining and working positively with him within a mainstream setting for the rest of the year) that the school extended its use of the statutory curriculum flexibility to all pupils and developed a radical approach to curriculum planning and delivery that actively promotes mental health and emotional well-being. In addition, the school has been effectively ‘commissioned’ by the LA (through the use of SEN statutory processes) to design different “person-centred” packages around other pupils who find regular curriculum arrangements in other schools problematic. This has included those on the autism spectrum or with significant mental health needs.
The report from the school’s recent Ofsted inspection speaks in glowing terms of the many ‘outstanding’ and ‘excellent’ features within the school – and of the high quality of outcomes for all pupils when matched against the five outcomes framework.
Case study from the DCSF guidance on the Education of Children with Behavioural, Social and Emotional Difficulties as a Special Educational Need
The Head of Year 9 reviews referrals for behaviour and discipline following a discussion of the definition of disability on a staff training day. She thinks that more pupils are covered by the definition than the school had previously recognised and identifies a group of pupils on the autism spectrum who are over-represented in the referrals. She meets with the pupils individually to discuss what steps the school might take to reduce the number of incidents. Following her discussions she meets with the pastoral deputy and the SENCO. They agree the following actions:
- the SENCO will contact the local authority for training on the communication needs of pupils with autism. The school wants to build this in on a regular basis, so that new staff can attend and existing staff can have refresher sessions;
- the deputy will circulate a note to ask other teachers with pastoral responsibilities to undertake similar reviews of referrals;
- the SENCO will involve the pupils and their parents in the development of a note to all staff to ensure that staff are aware of some key considerations in their interactions with the pupils;
- the deputy will bring forward the review of the school’s behaviour policy to the next term; and
- the actions they agree will be incorporated into the school’s disability equality scheme, but progress on reducing the number of incidents will be kept under review as part of the school’s behaviour policy.
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