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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:20 am on 8th October 2008.

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Photo of Janet Dean Janet Dean Labour, Burton 10:20 am, 8th October 2008

I congratulate John Bercow not only on securing the debate and his passionate speech but on the work that he has done in raising awareness of the needs of children with speech and language difficulties.

I currently have the honour of chairing the all-party group on autism. I wish to thank the National Autistic Society and the other autism charities not only for their support of the group but for their support of people with autism.

In 2003, the all-party group published a manifesto that set out a 10-year vision for a society in which autism was fully understood and in which people on the autism spectrum and their families were respected and supported, and provided with the same rights and entitlements as other people. Education is central to the fulfilment of that vision. This debate provides a welcome opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made towards the manifesto's education objectives and the resulting outcomes for young people with autism. We are now five years into the 10-year period of the manifesto, and the all-party group is taking the opportunity at this halfway stage to review progress against the objectives. It will publish a report on it later this month.

We have come a long way over the past five years, and much progress has been made. For the first time, we have records of the number of pupils who have significant special educational needs as a result of autism. As others have said, there has been welcome progress recently on improving training for teachers, with the development of modules on special educational needs for initial teacher training, the development of the Autism Education Trust, which brings together autism organisations to improve support for pupils with autism, and the inclusion development programme, which will provide basic training in autism for practising teachers from next year. Again, as other Members have said, the appointment of special educational needs co-ordinators means that the members of staff who advise and lead on SEN in each school will now be required to have qualified teacher status and training in SEN.

Nevertheless, the all-party group supports what other Members have said this morning. It believes that the Government should go further and that there should be a mandatory requirement for all teachers to have training in autism to ensure that all children get the support that they need.

Despite the advances, children with autism and their families continue to face many difficulties and challenges as they go through the education system. Rates of exclusion and bullying are still far too high. In one terrible example, a child was excluded 77 times in just two years. Some young people with autism are unable to fulfil their potential in exams because the right support is not put in place. Because parents are blamed for their child's behaviour by professionals who fail to understand autism, relationships deteriorate and parents feel increasingly isolated.

In some cases, teaching professionals refuse to accept diagnoses given by health professionals. Many children are unable to attend schools that are nearby and have to travel more than 10 miles to get to a school.