The editor of Reporting Scotland has been forced to apologise after the programme misled viewers on an issue relating to autism and school exclusions.
A complaint was lodged after the flagship news programme claimed that 37% of children with autism were being unlawfully expelled from school. The claim, which was based on research carried out by three charities, was included in several news reports on September 24th.
However according to Professor John Robertson, the claim was misleading. The retired academic pointed out that only 478 of the 1434 parents who took part in the survey claimed their child had been unlawfully expelled.
In his complaint, Professor Robertson said of the Reporting Scotland reports: “This is an incorrect reading of the report suggesting 37% of all children with autism, with the effect of seriously exaggerating their evidence.”
The report itself said: ‘We described unlawful exclusions to respondents as when a child has been sent home from school or asked not to attend, without being formally excluded (e.g. school asking parents to pick up their child early). 37% (n=478) of parents who responded to this question told us that their child had been excluded in this way.’
Professor Robsrtson added: “Note that 37% of the 478 parents who responded (176) indicated ‘unlawful’ exclusion. The full sample was 1434 and that was thought to be around 10% of the total population of autistic pupils in Scotland (page 14).
” … the percentage should have been changed to 12% of those who took part in the research and the size of the sample, 10% of the total population, should have featured in the report.”
Responding, the programme editor apologised saying: “Thank you for being in touch about Reporting Scotland on the morning of 24th September.
“You have raised concerns which I share about a report on a survey of parents and carers of autistic children.
“In retrospect we should not have carried this story in the way that we did and I apologise for that. I am taking steps to try to ensure that we do not do so again with similar stories.
“I believe that this was an honest mistake and that there was certainly no intention to mislead our audience, but that does not detract from the fact that we got it wrong.
“I am grateful to you for taking the time and the trouble to explain the reasons for your concern.”
The admission and apology were welcomed by the retired academic, however the claim that it was an honest mistake was treated with scepticism by Professor Robertson who said: “While few of us would believe that this was an honest mistake, it’s certainly the first time I’ve had an apology of any kind!”
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