The Inclusion of Autistic Children in the Curriculum and Assessment in Mainstream Primary Schools

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Social Genetic and Dev Psychiatry Centre


Due to national and international legal and policy agreements supporting educational inclusion, more autistic children are now being educated in mainstream settings, particularly primary schools. However, despite some significant drivers towards the inclusion of autistic children in mainstream schools, they are subject to high levels of exclusion. And even when in school, autistic children might experience different forms of segregation, or partial participation only in some parts of the curriculum. In fact, when I examined data from the Department for Education (DfE), I learned that not only were autistic children* performing poorly in primary school tests, but that they might not be taking those tests at all. Therefore, I wanted to find out if and how autistic children were participating in the curriculum and tests in mainstream primary schools, and with what sort of support. I spent five months gathering data in five mainstream primary schools in England, talking to school staff, autistic children and their parents. I also recruited a sample of autistic adults from across the UK: all of my participants provided me with their viewpoints on the issues relating to the education of autistic children. My findings provided some striking insights into the ways in which autistic children access the curriculum and tests, and the factors which influence this. The support they receive emerged as particularly significant, impacting on a range of issues such as their communication, independence and socialisation, as well as their learning. For example, nearly all of the ten autistic children involved in my study sometimes missed lessons to take part in intervention groups or for one-to-one work with their teaching assistant. This factor alone meant that they didn't access parts of the curriculum, providing an important potential explanation for their poor performance in national tests. Or, sometimes it was an issue of their learning style, which was at odds with the teaching methods typically used in schools. In addition, I was interested to find out how the different adult participants understood autism, and what, if any, impact this had on issues such as the educational priorities for autistic children. In the event, my findings suggested that to unquestioningly link autism with difficulties can create problems for autistic children in schools. It can mean, for example, that well-intentioned school staff apply interventions aimed at helping the autistic children, which don't actually help them at all. Therefore, all of these issues, and others that I discovered, have implications for both education and research practices in the context of autism. Over the next year, I will be writing papers on how autistic children can access tests in schools, how to facilitate the involvement in research of autistic children and adults, and the impact of the interests of autistic children on their time in school. In addition, I will be completing a book based on my PhD findings, which is aimed at autism practitioners, school staff and researchers. My intention is to attend conferences, both at home and abroad, where I will present on key aspects of my PhD and make further connections with other interested researchers and relevant user-groups in the autism education field. I will also be writing short pieces for online journals and engage with social media. I plan to develop networks with other research institutions and organisations which deal with the education of autistic children, and extend links with the autistic community. In addition, I plan to further my teaching experience by delivering lectures, seminars and holding workshops. I plan to run a seminar which explores non-verbal communication and how autistic people who do not use speech as a primary means of communication might be able to participate better in research projects, an area I hope to develop further in an academic context in the future. *autistic children as defined in DfE data.


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