Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Education statistics and children with 'autistic spectrum disorder'

This blogpost is a companion to a recent post I did on Departmentfor Education (DfE) statistics on children and young people identified withinthe English education system as children/young people with learning disabilities, recorded in an annual census of schools. This post reproduces some of the statistics I did for that post with a different group of children and young people; children and young people with a primary Special Educational Need of ‘Autistic spectrum disorder’ (this is the DfE descriptor rather than wording I would choose). As with the previous post, this post will mainly focus on children who have been judged to require specific support in the form of an SEN statement (historically) or now (magically) an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.

First question - how many children and young people with statements/EHC plans associated with a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ are recorded in DfE statistics? The first graph below shows the number of children with a ‘primary SEN need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’, from 2010 to 2017.

The graph shows that in 2017, just over 60,000 children (60,832 children) in England (over a quarter (27%) of all children with statements or EHC plans) had a statement/EHC plan and were identified as children with ‘autistic spectrum disorder’. This is an increase of 55% in the number of children with a statement/EHC plan and a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder in the seven years from 2010, when 39,320 children were identified.

I also looked at how many of these children had a ‘secondary SEN need’ recorded in 2017 alongside their primary need.

For those with a statement/EHC plan and a primary need of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’, around two fifths (42%) had a secondary SEN identified, most commonly Speech, Language and Communication Needs (8,611 children; 14.2%), Severe Learning Difficulties (4,511 children; 7.4%), Social, Emotional and Mental Health (4,267 children; 7.0%), and Moderate Learning Difficulties (3,588 children; 5.9%). An additional 13,175 children had a secondary need of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ identified alongside a different primary SEN, most commonly Severe Learning Difficulties (5,422 children), Moderate Learning Difficulties (2,150 children), Speech, Language and Communication Needs (1,991 children), and Social, Emotional and Mental Health (1,856 children).

Second question: At what ages are children/young people most likely to be identified by education systems as requiring a statement/EHC plan associated with ‘autistic spectrum disorder’? The graph below shows the rates (per 1,000 of all children) of children with statements/EHCPs and a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’  at ages 5-15 years (when the information about children is likely to be more complete).

Identification rates seem to gradually increase through the early primary school years, with a bigger increase through the end of primary school into secondary school, then a slight reduction at age 15.



Third question: How many autistic children and young people are being educated in mainstream schools or special schools? The graph below shows the number of children with a statement/EHC plan and a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ being educated in mainstream schools and special schools in England, from 2010 through to 2017. These figures don’t include potentially substantial but often not really known numbers of children not in school at all (including those being home educated), or in places like residential special schools or specialist inpatient units.

For children with statements/EHC plans associated with ‘autistic spectrum disorder’, the number of children in mainstream schools has increased from 22,800 children in 2010 to 31,092 children in 2017, an increase of 36% in seven years. However, the number of children in special schools has increased from 16,520 children in 2010 to 29,740 children in 2017, a much faster rate of increase of 80% in seven years. The number of children with a statement/EHC plan associated with ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ in special schools in 2017 has almost caught up with the number of children in mainstream schools.



The next graph below puts this information together to show the proportion of children with a statement/EHC plan associated with ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ in mainstream schools from 2010 to 2017 – the percentage of children in mainstream schools has decreased from 58% in 2010 to 51% in 2017.



Fourth question – how many children with statements/EHCPs associated with ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ are eligible for free school meals? Autistic children were twice as likely (28%) than all children in schools (14%) to be eligible for free school meals.

Fifth question – how much school do children with statements/EHCPs associated with ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ miss, either through absences or exclusions?

DfE report statistics on the proportion of school half-day sessions missed through authorised and unauthorised absences from school. This is not just for children with a statement/EHC plan, but also includes children at the level of School Action Plus (a historic category somewhere between a statement and SEN Support). In 2016/17, children with a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ missed 5.0% of their school sessions (a half day every two weeks) due to authorised absences, compared to 3.4% of all children in school. Levels of unauthorised absences were similar for autistic children (1.5% of school sessions missed) compared to all children (1.3% of school sessions missed).

Finally, DfE statistics report the percentage of children who experienced fixed-term and permanent exclusions from school in 2015/16. Children with a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ were almost three times as likely to have experienced at least one fixed period exclusion in 2016/17 (4.3% of autistic children; 9,040 children) than children without identified special educational needs (1.5% of children). Levels of permanent school exclusions were also higher for autistic children (150 exclusions in 2016/17; 0.15% of children) than for children without identified special educational needs (less than 0.1%).

For children without SEN, the most common reasons for fixed period exclusions were persistent disruptive behaviour (26.9% of exclusions for this group), ‘other’ (21.2%), physical assault against a pupil (18.8%), and verbal abuse/threatening behaviour against an adult (16.2%). For children with a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’, the most common reasons were: physical assault against an adult (23.6% of exclusions), persistent disruptive behaviour (19.9%), physical assault against a pupil (17.6%), and verbal abuse/threatening behaviour against an adult (16.4%).

For children without SEN, the most common reasons for permanent exclusions were persistent disruptive behaviour (31.9% of exclusions), ‘other’ (18.5%), physical assault against a pupil (13.4%), and drug and alcohol related reasons (11.7%). For children with a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ the most common reasons were physical assault against an adult (33.3%) and persistent disruptive behaviour (23.3%).

TL:DR
  • Unlike some other categories of ‘special educational needs’, the number of children with a statement/Education Health and Care Plan and a ‘primary care need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ has rapidly increased to just over  60,000 children in the seven years from 2010 to 2017, now representing over a quarter of all children with statements/EHCPs.
  • As with other groups of children, from 2010 to 2017 there has been a gradual drift towards special schooling for autistic children.
  • Children with a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ are twice as likely  to be eligible for free school meals (28% of children) than children generally.
  • Children with a ‘primary need’ of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ are more likely than children not identified as having special educational needs to have authorised absences from school (levels of unauthorised absences are similar), and to experience both fixed period and permanent exclusions from school.


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