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A 2006 survey by the National Union of Teachers of its members showed that 44% of teachers do not feel confident teaching children on the autism spectrum. Lack of training is one of the reasons which the National Autistic Society (NAS) says results in the high school exclusion rate of these children. All those who plan or provide for children on the autism spectrum should have some knowledge and understanding of autism says the NAS. Its Good Practice guidelines says that local authority training programmes which help to spread knowledge and understanding should be open to all staff, not just teachers. Such programmes should aim at extending expertise at different skill levels and to different sectors.
Training may promote general awareness and understanding of autism; provide knowledge and skills such as information on disability benefits and advocacy skills which can be useful in supporting children with a range of disabilities; or may focus on specifics such as particular therapies, teaching skills, or communication systems such as Picture Exchange Communication or Makaton. The decision about which training programme to choose should relate to the needs of staff and the context in which people are working – for example, supporting a child with communication difficulties or leading on behaviour management in a mainstream or special school. If particular interventions are adopted, it is important that adequate training is provided to all staff involved so that they are used as intended.
Training policies in schools:
Schools should have a clear policy on autism training that is regularly monitored and reviewed. The training policy should include an audit of existing skills, autism-specific qualifications and training needs and should provide for planning to meet those needs. Any training provided should address the particular needs of participants and the context within which they work. The Training and Development Agency (TDA) National SEN Specialist Standards are useful for auditing professional development needs within schools.
Training organisations and other agencies
Much training is provided by independent and voluntary bodies as well as local authorities. Very often local autism groups and parent support groups can provide training involving personal experience and local knowledge.
Parents and specialist providers from the voluntary and statutory sectors should be involved when local authorities audit training needs in the area and should be consulted about the content of training packages.
Schools often have knowledge and skills that they can share with others. Staff with experience and knowledge of children on the autism spectrum may run courses or contribute to local authority courses. For example, in some areas training is provided by beacon schools which are able to share good practice. Staff from independent and non-maintained special schools may also run courses for children’s services staff and local schools and exchange knowledge and expertise.
Professionals, such as advisory teachers with expertise of autism, collaborate on regular local sessions for different sectors and different categories of staff, including non-teaching staff. Joint training sessions may be available for education, health and social services staff and joint training with parents is sometimes provided which can support consistent approaches at home and school.
Continuing Professional Development
Research and practice into autism continues to identify new perspectives and approaches so all professionals need to update their skills and knowledge with continuing professional development (CPD). Evaluating training provided as part of CPD should be routine with regular review, using the TDA Standards, with particular reference to the skills needed to work with pupils on the autism spectrum. Knowledge gained from training should be disseminated to other staff members through feedback sessions.
The number of education professionals with a knowledge and understanding of autism has increased in recent years and training opportunities now include one or two year accredited courses leading to a variety of awards. The National Autistic Society (NAS) Good Practice guidance lists the following pointers to developing a workforce better qualified to work with people on the autism spectrum:
- There is support for open learning opportunities to gain Level 1 (HE) qualifications in autism.
- There is a commitment to training key teaching and advisory staff by supporting enrolment on accredited HE courses.
- There are arrangements to make staff aware of existing autism training courses.
- Selection criteria for jobs requiring expertise in the autism spectrum include attendance on an accredited course.
- Accredited courses are run in the local authority in collaboration with a university where there is expertise in autism spectrum and/or a local autism society.
- Staff are funded to participate in accredited courses in autism.
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The National Strategies initiative is providing a four-year programme of continuing professional development (CPD) designed to increase the confidence and expertise of mainstream practitioners in meeting high incidence of SEN in mainstream settings and schools.
The aim of the programme is to support schools and early years settings through web-based materials, which will include:
- teaching and learning resources
- training materials
- guidance on effective classroom strategies
- models of good practice for multi-disciplinary teams
- information about sources of more specialist advice.
In 2008, the programme focused on dyslexia and speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). In 2009, the focus is on supporting pupils on the autism spectrum. As well as communication being fundamental to learning and progression, frustration born of inability to communicate can contribute to erratic or unpredictable behaviour in class. It is envisaged that a future round will specifically address behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.
The Training and Development Agency for Schools website has resources for teachers, teaching assistants and other support staff, SENCOs and headteachers. It includes information on standards, qualifications and CPD. Its Special Educational Needs Strategy aims to secure an effective workforce that is able to raise the educational achievement of children with special educational needs and disabilities and provide them with the opportunity to develop their potential and improve their lives.
The National SEN Specialist Standards have been designed as an audit tool to help teachers and headteachers to identify specific training and development needs in relation to the effective teaching of pupils with severe and/or complex special educational needs. They are available via the Training and Development Agency for Schools website.
National Autistic Society (NAS)
NAS Training and Consultancy has ten years' experience delivering training in autism to various organisations, local education authorities, social services, practitioners and professionals across the UK.
Autism Outreach provides a range of training programmes for those who might be involved with children and adults on the autistic spectrum including parents, teachers and other education professionals, ancillary workers such as midday supervisors, health professionals, social workers and of course, people on the autism spectrum.
British Institute of Learning Disabilities provides a range of training consultancy and learning services including some autism specific courses.
Autism UK offers training in TEACHH and Social Stories.
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DCSF (2003) Teaching Assistant File: Induction training for teaching assistants in primary schools.
DCSF (2007) Induction materials for teaching assistants in secondary schools
English, A and Essex, J, West Midlands SEN Regional Partnership (2001) Report on Autistic Spectrum Disorders: A comprehensive report
into identification, training and provision focusing on the needs of children and young people with an autistic spectrum disorder and their families within the West Midlands Region. Available via www.westmidlandsrcp.org.uk or from http://www.nfer.ac.uk/emie
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Derbyshire LEA has developed a programme of day courses for staff in schools and early years providers in all key phases. Teachernet good practice example
Hertfordshire — Specialist teachers in Hertfordshire are expected to follow the University of Birmingham Distance Learning course in autism. Teachernet good practice example
Merseyside – Teachernet good practice example on training around the transfer of pupils on the autism spectrum from primary to secondary school.
Nottinghamshire – accredited training courses in autism for teachers and teaching assistants in conjunction with the Open College Network. Teachernet good practice example
Worcestershire — Modular, accredited training course focusing on autism. Teachernet good practice example
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