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Robin Walker MP
Mariam Kazem-Malaki, Campaigns and Policy Manager

Youth participation
Wednesday 22 February 2023

Autistic young people meet Education Select Committee Chair

Last November, we launched our Written Off? campaign, which calls on the government to protect SEND funding and families’ legal rights to get support for their children. 

We asked Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robin Walker MP, for a meeting to discuss the campaign and hear from members of the Ambitious Youth Network, a group of autistic young people aged 16-25 from across England, about their experiences of education. 

During the meeting, the young people spoke about a lack of understanding and support from their teachers and peers which, in some cases, lead to being excluded from activities and bullying. 

Hannah said:

During my time in full time education my attendance was so poor. This was due to bullying and not feeling like I fitted in and the students and staff having a lack of understanding. I was also prevented from attending school trips as staff at my school just didn't know enough about autism to support me.

 

Lily added:

I was often bullied for being 'different to everyone else' and when it came to Year 6 and I was taking my SATs, I remember being told to ‘concentrate properly' and to 'knuckle down and focus'. 

 

One young person, Chetan, described how this lack of understanding meant his teachers had low expectations for him. He said:

At school I was never someone who teachers or anyone saw something in, I was someone who wasn’t encouraged to go to university.

 

Other members spoke about the long delays and difficulties in accessing Education Health and Care (EHC) plans. 

Harvey described being discouraged from applying for one by his teachers. He said:

For six consecutive years I was told I did not need an EHC plan because I was ‘too intelligent’, despite the fact my mental health was becoming worse and worse.

 

Olivia added:

The prospect of getting an EHC plan feels difficult and utterly inaccessible. The system is so complex and prolonged that should I have applied when I was still in school, none of my family members would have had the energy left to fight the failing system any further.

 

Hannah agreed with Olivia’s concerns, adding:

The waiting times are horrendous and there is no proper support in applying for one.

 

Many of the young people explained how these difficult experiences of education have negatively impacted their mental health. 

They also highlighted the need for support to extend beyond education, in areas such as social and emotional wellbeing and employment. 

Saffron added:

It is so important that there is help for all aspects of an individual - their social, behaviour, and mental health needs, within schools. Lack of communication and joined up services had such a huge impact on my life.

 

Isabelle spoke about the need for more autism-specific career support in schools. She outlined the help she had received from Ambitious about Autism’s Employ Autism programme and her belief that this type of support needs to be extended to all autistic pupils. She said:

I’m one of the lucky ones. Without that initial support from Ambitious I wouldn't have been able to get to where I am today. I want this transition to employment support to be available to all young people with autism.

 

Mr Walker told the young people he agreed about the importance of autism-specific teacher training and the need for better understanding of the experiences of autistic pupils in schools. He also spoke about the adaptations needed to make job applications more accessible for autistic young people. 

 

Robin Walker MP and Mariam, Campaigns and Policy Manager at Ambitious about Autism

 

Reflecting on the meeting, the Youth Network members said they felt it was a success and were hopeful about its outcomes. 

Madeline said:

I’m really happy that I’ve had the opportunity to represent my experiences and the needs of the autistic community. I was very moved by all of the comments made by other Youth Network members. Hearing them made me even more aware that we need better SEND training for all teachers in school and that this needs to be influenced by the voices of young people with SEND.

 

Megan added:

Despite feeling anxious about the meeting, I finally felt I was listened to. I hope the government will take on board on what parents and young people are saying about their experiences of the broken education system and how to make it work better.

 

As part of our campaign, we have also launched a petition which has over 6,000 signatures. Sign the petition today.
 

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