Executive Summary & Key Findings
We commissioned two surveys among stakeholders right across school communities in the country. In doing so, we aimed to compile an informed picture of the situation facing autistic students of all ages and their families on a national level.
The first survey sought to explore the issues involved with securing a school place for an autistic pupil, ranging from their age group and current enrolment to what were the main obstacles encountered whilst applying for a place.
The second survey concerned itself with expulsions and extended absences, examining the complications arising for families whose children were experiencing complications in their educational and personal development. Among its questions, the survey inquired what the main reasons for pupils’ exclusion were, their families’ engagement with their local Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENO) and whether or not the families were receiving support from social services.
Stakeholders identified and engaged with throughout the process were chiefly composed of autistic pupils themselves and their family members.
We found that:
- 54% of those families seeking a school placement said that their children were due to enrol at a primary school;
- 48% said that a mainstream school with an autism class was the recommended setting for their autistic child’s education;
- 35% said that they had applied to anywhere between four and seven different schools whilst seeking a place for their child;
- 54% felt that a lack of school places was the biggest barrier for their child in accessing education, supported by a further 18% saying that their chief obstacle was a lack of nearby schools or classes in their local catchment areas;
- 80% of respondents who were seeking a school place reported engaging with their local SENO to 20% who had not; for those whose child(ren) were expelled or experiencing exclusion, this gap considerably narrowed, with 56% and 44% reporting engagement and a lack of engagement with their SENO respectively;
- A range of varying school attendance rates were reported, with 17% of families saying that their child attends school on a reduced timetable contrasting with 13% who reported as long as three years’ worth of absence from school for their child;
- 54% of those families whose child(ren) were experiencing exclusion or extended absences from school were secondary school-aged, compared to 41% at primary level;
- 91% of respondents whose child(re) were experiencing exclusion or extended absence from school said they were presently receiving no support from Tusla;
- 66% reported that anxiety was the main reason why their child(ren) were experiencing exclusion or an extended absence from school, followed by 52% who believed that a lack of knowledge and understanding of autism was their main reason, as well as 34% who cited inadequate supports currently available in schools.