The Department of Education asked the Autism Education Trust (AET) to research and develop standards for good practice in educational provisions for children with autism.
The AET looked at sixteen schools showing good practice in autism education according to Ofsted, the AET themselves and other agencies. These schools had provision ranging from early years to age 19. They educated autistic children with differing abilities and were a range of specialist autism schools, other special schools and mainstream schools with autism resource bases.
The AET interviewed staff within these schools as well as pupils and parents/carers.
I am going to look at some of their findings as I feel it is important for parents and LA’s to think about this information when considering what schools autistic children should be placed in. It is also useful for current teachers and schools with autistic pupils to take these findings into account and to be able to use them to implement good practice with their pupils.
The AET found that schools showing best practice with autistic pupils of all abilities were implementing various strategies. I have taken ten of these which I think would be useful to think about when choosing the right school.
1. “Have high ambitions for pupils with autism to reach their full potential.”
This I feel is especially important and often overlooked. It is as important to educate children with autism spectrum disorders, both academically and otherwise, as it is to provide them with an environment they can cope with. Autistic children deserve to be equipped to reach their full potential.
2. “Embed specialist, evidence-informed approaches in quality-first teaching practice to remove barriers for pupils on the autism spectrum.”
With highly trained teachers practicing quality teaching methods
throughout the whole school and using well-informed approaches within the whole school environment, the barriers to learning, that autistic children can experience, will be more likely to be removed.
3. “Increase the range of learning opportunities for developing independent living skills.”
Good schools will teach both academic subjects and life skills. They will incorporate equipping children to become independent into their education. An example of this would be my son’s school, as well as his academic targets, school also have a target that by the end year ten he will be able to walk to the shop independently and safely. He is taught social skills and practical skills like shopping and how to use a fridge as well as maths and English.
4. “Celebrate and value achievements of pupils and staff.”
This is incredibly important. Often children with autism have low self-esteem and are too used to not gaining the achievements of their peers in school settings. To celebrate and value their achievements will help to increase their self esteem. Celebrating and valuing staff will encourage them.
5. “Use innovative and individualised methods of adapting the curriculum, utilising pupils’ strengths and interests, to make it accessible and rewarding for pupils with autism.”
A lot of pupils with autism have an individualistic style of learning. They have special interests and tapping in to these to help them learn can be very beneficial. If the school can be adaptive with their teaching methods to teach those with autism in their own individual way then these children could achieve more.
6. “Encourage joint planning and working with health and education professionals to support language and communication, emotional wellbeing and an environment conducive to learning.”
It is so important for schools to work with other agencies when teaching autistic children. Children with autism need so much more input than a solely academic education. Working with health professionals to support language, communication, emotional wellbeing and to help make the environment such that the child can learn will help the child considerably and remove some of their barriers to learning.
7. “Select and value motivated, enthusiastic and empathetic staff.”
The staff in the school can make all the difference to a child’s well-being, happiness and education. Selecting staff who understand the needs of individual children and who are motivated to teach is very important.
8. “Build and consolidate autism expertise at a consistently high level by maintaining an ongoing programme of training and CPD on autism for all staff.”
This is something a lot of schools miss. To constantly and consistently train staff on dealing with autistic children, will equip them to teach them better. One half day course on autism is not enough.
9. “Develop a close working relationship with parents, which recognises their key role, expertise and joint decision making.”
This, again is important. Parents know their children best. They have probably spent years working out strategies that work with their children, how to deal with them in different situations and what to implement to help them. Parents will know what works for their child. They will know if their child is happy at school, they will often know what is causing issues and have suggestions on how to help.
10. “Strong leadership and a clear vision to implement all of the above.”
This goes without saying. If the leadership of the school are strong and enthusiastic about implementing best practice for autistic children in their school, then the school will be a better place for autistic pupils. Similarly if the leadership of the school aren’t so bothered then the emphasis won’t be put on the importance of training, working with health professionals, encouraging teachers and individualising learning, and autistic children will not thrive.
When considering the right school for a child with autism, I feel it is very important to consider how and if the school implements the findings of the AET on good practice in educational provisions for children with autism.
I do believe that it does not matter if a school is mainstream, specialist, autism specialist or mainstream with an autism resource base and all can be considered, although environment as well as practice should be taken into account depending on the child’s needs.
I actually used this information as a large part of my appeal to get my son into the school he is at now as opposed to the unsuitable school the LA assessment team were trying to send him to. I compared both schools to the best practice points above and managed to prove that one school was unsuitable for an autistic child and the other was perfect.
My son’s current school more than fulfils the standards for good practice in educational provisions for children with autism. Coupled with the environment meeting his sensory needs, this makes a perfect school for him.
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