United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Key documents: Human Rights Act, Special Education Needs and Disability Act, Equality Act, and the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Characteristics: Policy adopted on the United Kingdom level affects all its constituent countries. As such, it is often more generic. 


  • Within the United Kingdom, the Human Rights Act set out the right to education for every person (Part II, Article 2). Due to its generality, though, no specific measures as to how to attain this were formulated yet [1]. 
  • More specific measures were implemented when the Special Education Needs and Disability Act was ratified [2]. It created an environment in the United Kingdom where children with special education needs are able to access mainstream education (Part 1, 1), while also stressing that people with disabilities should not be discriminated against , the special needs of these need to be respected, and equal opportunities have to be ensured (Part 2, Chapter 1).
  • Later on, the Equality Act was passed that applied to all the entire United Kingdom, except for Northern Ireland and reiterated that children with disabilities should not be discriminated against (Article 88 - Schedule 10) [3]. 
  • The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage that was adopted closely after the Equality Act recognised the wide variation in skills and, by extension, special needs that children possess and have (Paragraph 1.6) [4]. It also mentions that children have different abilities, therefore they have different needs and learning plans should to be targeted to areas where the child may perform weaker (Paragraphs 2.4, 2.10).

[1] Government of the United Kingdom. Human Rights Act. 1998. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/contents
[2] Government of the United Kingdom. Special Educational Needs and Disability Act. 2001. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2001/10/contents
[3] Government of the United Kingdom. Equality Act. 2010. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
[4] Government of the United Kingdom. Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. 2014. Available from: https://info.lse.ac.uk/staff/services/nursery/Assets/Documents/EYFS-Framework-Sept-2014.pdf


Key documents: Autism Act (England and Wales), Children and Families Act, Think Autism, Statutory Guidance, and the Statutory Guidance – Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years.​

Characteristics: Initially, only the rights for adults with autism were taken into account. This was later rectified, as it became clear that childhood is a key timeframe in helping children with autism develop as well as possible. It created an environment where health, education, and social care became key pillars on which autism policy was built. Subsequent policy was heavily focused on the education settings in which children with autism grew up, as well as how these children could effectively transition between settings where needed. Ultimately, this lead to an education system where children with autism are required to have access to education and training that is equal in quality compared to other children.


  • Building on the environment established in the United Kingdom as a whole, England and Wales adopted the Autism Act [1]. Even though it recognised the rights for people with autism, it only applied to adults. It is unknown as to why this Act was drafted to only apply to adults, since autism starts in early childhood and it is paramount that adequate education and support is guaranteed to secure integration in society. 
  • Shortly after the ratification of the Statutory Framework for the entire UK, the Children and Families Act was adopted by England [2]. It introduced the Special Education Needs and Disability Support System, which encompasses health, education, and social care. 
  • The Children and Families Act incentivised the creation of another autism strategy, this time one that applied to children as well: Think Autism [3]. In Think Autism, the importance of education settings is highlighted. Furthermore, it stresses the need for good planning when children with autism need to transition between different levels of education. 
  • The Statutory Guidance that closely followed Think Autism mentions that all providers of education for children 16 and older should offer challenging courses that have as aim to help people with autism improve skills they would need in their future work-life [4]. 
  • Finally, the Statutory Guidance – Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years established important rights for people with autism [5]. Other than reiterating the right to education, it expands this by requiring the education to be on par with that of neurotypical people. It also stipulates that the aim of this increased quality of education is to allow people with autism to develop themselves to their full potential.

[1] English Government, Welsh Government. Autism Act. 2009. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/15/contents
[2] English Government. Children and Families Act. 2014. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/6/contents
[3] English Government. Think Autism. 2014. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/299866/Autism_Strategy.pdf
[4] English Department of Health. Statutory guidance for Local Authorities and NHS organisations to support implementation of the Adult Autism Strategy. 2015. Available from: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence
[5] English Department for Education, English Department of Health. Statutory Guidance - Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years. 2015. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf


Key documents: Autism Act (England and Wales), Autism Spectrum Disorder Action Plan for Wales, and Together Mental Health.

Characteristics: So far, the rights of adults with autism have been established in Wales. However, the rights of children with autism specifically have not been specifically formulated. This remains to hold true after the importance of proper education and the impact that has on the development of children with autism was acknowledged. Nevertheless, curricula have been adapted to account for the special needs of children with autism. 


  • Like mentioned above, England and Wales adopted the same Autism Act, which recognised the rights for adults with autism. 
  • Alongside this Act, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Action Plan for Wales was introduced [1]. While it did not establish new rights for people with autism, it functions as a summary of the rights they can exercise in Wales. The right to education is specifically mentioned here in paragraph 5.2. Additionally, the importance of appropriate education and its long-term effects were acknowledged. It recognises the wide variety in needs that people with autism have and emphasises that school curricula should be adapted to the person in order to provide successful education (Paragraph 5.3). 
  • Finally, the Together Mental Health strategy reiterates the importance of ensuring education and support for people with mental conditions [2].

[1] Welsh Assembly Government. The Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Strategic Action Plan for Wales [Internet]. 2009. Available from: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/documents/ASD-strategy.pdf
[2] Welsh Government. Together for Mental Health. A Strategy for Mental Health and Wellbeing in Wales [Internet]. 2012. Available from: https://gweddill.gov.wales/docs/dhss/publications/121031tmhfinalen.pdf


Key documents: Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act, Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act, and the Scottish Strategy for Autism.

Characteristics: Scottish autism policy may not be elaborate, yet it touched upon very key elements. It acknowledges the importance of developing children with autism through education and meeting their needs in educational settings. Also, it is alongside England, the only country that identifies transition periods as impactful for people with autism.


  • Next to the legislation that applies to the entire United Kingdom, Scotland has adopted several policies relevant to autism. The Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act stated in Article 15 that development of the full potential, talents and personality should be one of the universal aims of education [1]. 
  • Subsequently, the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act established the need to identify and act on special needs of children and provide appropriate support in paragraph 4 [2]. 
  • Finally, Scotland passed the Scottish Strategy for Autism, of which Goal 3 highlights the need to identify and incorporate good-practice guidance in the field of education of people with autism [3]. It also recognises transition as an important period for people with autism (Recommendation 18), thus formulating recommendations on transition planning as well.

[1] Scottish Government. Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act. 2000. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2000/6/pdfs/asp_20000006_en.pdf
[2] Scottish Government. Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act. 2004. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2004/4/contents
[3] Scottish Government. The Scottish Strategy for Autism. 2011. Available from: https://education.gov.scot/improvement/documents/inc49thescottishstrategyforautism.pdf


Key documents: Special Education Needs and Disability Order, Autism Spectrum Disorder Strategic Action Plan, Autism Act (Northern Ireland), and the Autism Strategy (2013-2020) Action Plan (2013-2016). 

Characteristics: With the implementation of the first autism policy in Northern-Ireland, education has been recognised as an important factor to focus on. Subsequent policy become a lot more elaborate, covering areas such as health and social needs as well. It created a structured environment where children with autism are being prepared for their future lives. It also addresses the importance of early diagnosis and makes efforts to adopt good practices for that. 


  • The Special Education Needs and Disability Order reiterated In Article 14(1) that people with disabilities should not be discriminated against [1]. 
  • Following this, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Strategic Action Plan was implemented as the first autism-specific strategy in Northern-Ireland. It states in paragraph 27 that after diagnosis, special support needs should be identified in numerous fields, including education [2]. 
  • Shortly after, the Autism Act for Northern-Ireland was adopted, which required the government to create an autism strategy within two years [3]. The strategy was expected to show how needs of people with autism are addressed when it comes to education, health and social needs. 
  • As required the Autism Strategy (2013-2020) Action Plan (2013-2016) was created within two years with 11 key themes and 16 priorities with education being one of them [4]. More specifically, it establishes that the education of people with autism should lead to improvements in their preparedness for life and work in Priority 8. It also mentions the importance of working together to improve early diagnosis of autism and identify and adopt good practice in the area of meeting the needs of people with the condition.

[1] Northern-Irish Government. Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order. 2005. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisi/2005/1117/contents
[2] Northern-Irish Government. ASD Strategic Action Plan 2009-2011. 2009. Available from: http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/download/PUBLICATIONS/AUTISTIC SPECTRUM DISORDER/DHSSPS ASD Strategic Action Plan June 2009 - PDF 373KB.pdf
[3] Northern-Irish Government. Autism Act (Northern Ireland). 2011. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nia/2011/27/contents
[4] Northern-Irish Government. The Autism Strategy (2013-2020) and Action Plan (2013-2016). 2013. Available from: http://publichealthwell.ie/sites/default/files/documents/10.14655_799178_799332.pdf