Are Zero Tolerance Policies in Education Resulting in The ‘Pipeline to Prison’ for African Caribbean Autistic Boys?

The permanent exclusion from school of Black autistic boys is potentially a ‘pipeline to prison’. Black boys are under-represented in diagnosis of autism. Black boys are more likely to be seen as having conduct disorders or just badly behaved!

Keeney Parks (2018,) a Black mother and researcher in the USA shares my concerns. She writes about the day to day lives and experiences of Black parents who have a child diagnosed with autism. Her recent online blog identifies similar realities to those I have experienced;

‘The disparities faced… by African-Americans receiving special education services, which is the case with the majority of autistic children, are especially disconcerting… but even more so for kids in special education, who are often segregated from typical peers into special classes, juvenile justice and criminal justice systems are deprived of an appropriate education that could have changed their School-to-Prison Pipeline trajectory.’ 

In the UK context, The Lammy Review (2017) found that:

Despite making up just 14% of the population, BAME men and women make up 25% of prisoners, while over 40% of young people in custody are from BAME backgrounds. There is greater disproportionality in the number of Black people in prisons here than in the United States.

I believe that this a sign that Black autistic boys are in danger of being on the same trajectory as the African Americans in the USA that Parks describes.

A confidential government briefing paper was recently leaked last month, (Guardian, 2019) addressing the concerns arising from their determination to continue with a ‘Get Tough’ stance on poor behaviour. According to the Guardian the DfE paper:

… includes a major focus on poor behaviour in schools, said to be driven by No 10’s view that recent polling has shown strong public support for policies taking a tougher line. The announcements will include explicit support for head teachers who use “reasonable force” in their efforts to improve discipline.

… While the DfE expects members of the public will welcome “a harder narrative on discipline”, the document warns key stakeholders will be worried the policy could result in increased rates of permanent exclusion, which have in any case been climbing since 2012.

The document notes police and crime commissioners “worry about rates of exclusion driving knife crime” and acknowledges concerns it will impact disproportionately on children from some ethnic minority backgrounds, in particular black Caribbean boys, and those with special educational needs (SEN).

The prevailing culture of the government is creating a hostile climate for Black autistic boys that says, ‘We Have Given Up On You’ rather than the promise implied in the OCC claim in ‘They Never Give Up On You’ where they state:

“Permanent exclusion has a negative effect on an excludee’s life for far longer than the period immediately after exclusion. We knew a minority of schools exclude informally and therefore illegally but for the first time in this Inquiry have this on record. Whilst most schools work far beyond the call of duty to hold on to troubled and vulnerable children, a minority exclude on what seems to the observer to be a whim. And for whatever reasons, many of them explored in this report, we have not sufficiently challenged the failures and brought about the changes required. We must do so now” (OCC, 2012).


  1. […] As a Black parent and community worker I have spent much of my life campaigning against racism and other forms of oppression.  In recent years I have been involved in  challenging discrimination and stereotypes about young Black men and autism and in particular the impact of oppression on the lives of Black autistic young people in education. I have my own personal story about fighting back against high rates of school exclusions of vulnerable African Caribbean Boys. […]


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