Yes, and the whole processes, even SEN support is based on 'a suitable' education, not the best available. Which is why the Statementing process requires that each and every need is identified and met.
But surely that's a contradiction in terms? If the statementing process requires that 'each and every need is identified and met' (my italics) then surely that would be the 'best available'? And if a statemented child has access to the 'best available' education which provides that 'each and every need' of the child be met, then surely it would be discriminatory not to provide every other child in the UK with an education that identified and met each and every need...
And that's simply not a realistic model. Any child's education has to consider many factors; costing, the wellbeing of the child, the wellbeing of other children, the security of staff, the fair distribution of resources, the fair allocation of resources... the list is pretty much endless, but without a doubt the number of children in this country (and I'm sure in other countries)who receive an education where each and every need is identidied and met would be minute, even within the private sector.
Which is why LEA and NHS professionals are limited in what needs they identify because of the funding implications. And it is also based on the gradulated approach, which I also agree with. But what I don't agree with is the time it takes to go through the process, especially when professionals involved DO have alot of experience of assessing and working with children like ours. And they already know the probably prognosis and pathway. I have recently had the LEA SALT say to me that she will support me in seeking the school placement I wish for secondary (don't know if she will follow through though), but she has said that presently she feels that his current school is 'adequate'. And under law that is all that is required. I would beg to differ, but the time and money input is probably not worth it at this stage. But at transfer I will go the distance.
It is a difficult balance. Parents are responsible, and do have to leave schools to get on with it to a certain extent. But when progress is not seen they have to get involved.
I do agree with some of the other points you make, and particularly regarding the final paragraph, but I think how parents get involved is also vitally important. It is not reasonable when parents - whether of autistic children, otherwise disabled children, NT children (if there be such a beast!) - will consider no other factor beyond their wishes for their own child (often pursued against the advice, recommendations, findings and conclusions of professionals or perhaps with the endorsement of a privately paid consultant with no more than a casual acquaintance with the child concerned), or where the 'instincts' of the parent and/or practices at home actually undermine the best efforts of the education system.
In terms of the original topic, though, and academic achievement versus social skills, it would seem clear (IMO) that the 'most suitable' education would be one that addressed both, and that many aspects of the school curriculum actually do that as a matter of course. The expectation of 'good listening', for example, is a social skill whether practised in the assembly room at school, the living room at home, an interview room with a prospective employer, a chat with friends or in a communication group workshop. The only real difference, I guess (thinking about it as I've writen it) is that in a communication group workshop it's only a rehearsal for real life, whereas the other scenarios it's actually 'real life experience'. That's not, of course, to suggest that rehearsal isn't valuable and beneficial or even, in certain circumstances, vital. But if the expectations in rehearsal aren't reinforced and transferred into those real life situations as and when they arise they will never be anything more than 'role play'.