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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Ambitious about Autism launches new guide to help parents get justice for illegal school exclusions

The charity estimates that 26,000 children and young people with autism were unlawfully deprived of education last year. 

The new resource - which is available on the charity’s website – includes practical advice and guidance on what an illegal exclusion is and how parents can hold schools that break the rules to account.

Any exclusion that is not formally recorded by a school is in breach of the law – but research by Ambitious about Autism revealed serious problems with how this law is enforced.

The charity finds that thousands of children and young people with autism and special educational needs have been subjected to informal or ‘unofficial’ exclusions, such as sending a pupil home ‘to cool off’ – which are not reported. This means schools are not being sanctioned when the law is broken. 

Its new guidance aims to help families affected by illegal exclusions to understand their rights, as well as raise awareness of the scale of the problem with decision-makers.

Elizabeth Archer, Policy and Campaigns Director at Ambitious about Autism, said:

“Thousands of families are struggling to get justice for illegal exclusions.

“Sending a child home from school illegally is not only a stressful and disrupting experience for the pupil and their families – it can also be incredibly difficult to challenge.

“This new guidance aims to equip people with knowledge about their rights when illegal exclusions take place. It is also designed to increase awareness among decision makers about the scale of the problem – so we can work together to stamp out this practice once and for all.”

Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Illegal exclusions from school are a very serious issue, and one that disproportionally effects some children – including those with special educational needs.  In 2013, my office conducted an Inquiry into illegal exclusions from school and found that some children were being let down by a system that excluded them without accountability and causing significant impact both on those children’s experience of childhood, and on their later life chances. 

 “I am glad that Ambitious about Autism are supporting families to challenge illegal exclusions of children with autism through the practical guidance they are publishing today and that this will ultimately help to put an end to the illegal exclusion of children and young people with autism from our schools.”   

Latest figures from the Department for Education show that the number of times children with autism were legally excluded from school in the past year rose to over 9,000. But Ambitious about Autism fears this number is far higher due to unrecorded illegal exclusions.



If you would like to interview a spokesperson or case study about this campaign, please contact our media manager on 020 8815 5134 or email


Notes to editor

  • Latest figures from the Department for Education show that children and young people with autism were legally excluded from school 9,190 times between 2015/16. In 2014/15 this number was 7,360.
  • The when will we learn? campaign focuses on the impact of the school system when it fails children and young people with autism and their families, and unveils the scale and severity of this issue. 
  • 45% of families surveyed for the research said their child had been sent home from school or denied a full education by schools acting outside of the legal guidance. Assuming parents’ experiences are typical that would mean 26,000 children and young people with autism were unlawfully deprived of education last year.
  • The campaign is part of the joint ‘Every Child’ campaign; a partnership between Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society.
  • Ambitious about Autism is the national charity for children and young people with autism. We provide services, raise awareness and understanding, and campaign for change. Through TreeHouse School and, Ambitious College and the Autism Schools Trust, we offer specialist education and support.
  • Autism is a lifelong development disability which affects one in 100 people in the UK. It affects the way a person communicates and how they experience the world around them. Some people with autism are able to live independent lives, but others may face additional challenges including learning disabilities.