Educating educators – Autism support requirements in schools and colleges - Palmers Solicitors

Educating educators – Autism support requirements in schools and colleges

Educating educators – Autism support requirements in schools and colleges

As we focus on growing awareness and acceptance of autism at all levels and areas of society, our Education team take a look at the legal obligations of schools and colleges to support students with autism.

Roughly one per cent of children and young people in the UK are diagnosed with autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), meaning it is important that all education providers are aware of their responsibilities and how they can support those with the condition.

Protection from discrimination

Autism is classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, meaning that those with autism are protected from discrimination because of their needs.

In the context of education, this means that children and young people with autism are entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’ – measures which the school or college puts in place to ensure autistic students are not at a disadvantage due to their diagnosis.

This means including provisions in all activities, where possible, to allow all students to participate.

It is also important to remember that not everyone with autism will class themselves as having a disability, as this can mean that educators are not properly aware of their obligations to provide support.

What is classed as reasonable?

Autistic students will each have individual needs, skills and limitations.

It is hugely important to recognise this, not only from a moral perspective but also from a legal one.

As we have said, students with autism are entitled to reasonable adjustments – however, because these may be different for each student, it can be difficult for schools and colleges to provide them.

‘Reasonable’ is the key word here. It will look differently for all schools, depending on factors such as access to funding and staffing levels.

Generally, reasonable means that schools can put measures in place without significant financial hurdles or disruption to other pupils.

Consider some of the following adjustments and when they might be considered reasonable:

  • Structure – Some children with autism value structure more than other children, so schools may be able to provide adjustments such as using the same desk each day, but some disruption cannot be avoided.
  • Sensory accommodations – Students may be provided with modified lighting or quiet study zones as reasonable adjustments, but measures such as headphones may be difficult for use in group sessions or lessons.
  • Learning strategies – Schools may be expected to accommodate autistic pupils with approaches to learning but might not be expected to take on additional staff members if this is prohibitively expensive.

What we can see is that ‘reasonable’ in a legal sense is a highly situational term.

For this reason, it’s important for educational establishments and pupils and their families should be open and honest about their own needs and what can realistically be achieved.

Schools and colleges should be able to demonstrate why they have or have not provided an adjustment and how providing it would have negatively impacted other pupils or the school’s operations.

Ultimately, it’s important for all parties to remember that adjustments for autistic students aim to create equality with peers and provide as many opportunities as possible.

For advice on the legal perspective of supporting autistic pupils in schools, please contact our Education Law team today.