[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair] — Children and Young People with Autism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 8th October 2008.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 9:30 am, 8th October 2008

That is both true and outrageous. In addition, it is not uncommon for it to be decided that an awkward, administratively inconvenient, potentially distracting or expensive pupil should be relegated to the veritable dumping ground of a pupil referral unit—75 per cent. of whose occupants have special educational needs—when many of them are profoundly unsuited to that substandard educational provision, which I know the Government are seeking to improve. I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

On bullying, some 40 per cent. of parents of children on the autistic spectrum say that their child has been bullied by other children. Sometimes bullies are excluded from school—temporarily or, in extremis, permanently—but I am sorry to say that sometimes it is not the bully who is excluded but the bullied, again due to the bureaucratic mindset that "it would be better if he didn't distract". Often, children are excluded at key and predictable times, such as just before Christmas, to coincide with a school inspection, visit, play or something of that kind. That is intolerable.

Let us be clear what bullying means. It might be physical or verbal, or through discrimination; it might be abuse, theft or neglect. I think of a parent who told TreeHouse, "My son has been bullied to the point of wanting to end his own life, and he has self-harmed." The Government have published guidance on bullying, as recently as September 2008 and running to 55 pages, on which I congratulate the Minister, but there is a difference between publishing guidance and ensuring compliance with it. We need data to be published. We need regular checks. We need comprehensive area assessments to kick in.

I politely suggest two things to the Minister. First, let us have a theme of anti-bullying, segmented during different parts of the year—bullying of the disabled, bullying of gay, lesbian or bisexual pupils, bullying on grounds of race—that underlines the evil, stresses the strategies available to deal with it, incentivises improved performance and offers arrays of carrots and sticks to deal properly with the matter.

Furthermore, in the course of the 2009 consideration and review of special educational needs provision in this country, to which the Government are already committed, it might be a good idea for Ofsted to look at the phenomena of exclusion and bullying to see how better to address the matter. That would be in the interests of the children concerned and of their families who very often lose work opportunities, have to take time off—sometimes unpaid—to cope with the consequences of having to pick up a child early or have to secure additional help or medical assistance for him or her. We cannot allow such matters to rest.