Extended school year may not provide expected benefits to children with autism

Study also notes 'July provision' scheme could be "open to challenge on equality grounds"

Extended school year may not provide expected benefits to children with autism

Photo: Sam Boal/ RollingNews.ie

An extended school year for children with autism spectrum disorder does not reduce potential academic regression, according to a new report. 

The study by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is the first major report on the education of children with autism in 14 years.

It finds that the so-called 'July provision' is mainly valued because it provides day-time breaks for parents and families and a structured day for students.

However, it notes that the scheme could be "open to challenge on equality grounds", as research suggests that students with significant intellectual disability would also benefit from an extended school year.

At present, only children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder are entitled to this extended tutoring.

Pupils with Down Syndrome or other special educational needs are not eligible for July provision.

The report adds that the scheme is "not meeting its original purpose to minimise the potential for academic regression" by extending the academic programmes for one month.

"We could find no basis in research for a scheme which provided this level of support for students on the basis of a diagnosis of ASD alone," it says.

"We consider such a scheme could be open to challenge on equality grounds as research suggests that students with significant intellectual disability would also benefit from an extended school year."

The report recommends the development of a "safe, social summer day-activity programme for all students with complex educational needs" to replace the scheme.

It also calls for more investment in the development of teacher knowledge, skills and understanding of autism.

The findings show that one in every 65 children has been diagnosed with autism. It was previously estimated in 2013 to be one in every 100.

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton welcomed the publication of the report, saying he has established an implementation group to consider the recommendations and to develop an implementation plan.

“My Department will fully engage with its partners in other Departments and agencies and will consult with relevant stakeholders as appropriate throughout the forthcoming process of implementation," he said.