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Better Commissioning for Autism Education

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“There has never been a more pressing time for local and central government to be smarter about how we spend our resources,”
Tim Loughton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Jan 2011.

The current economic climate means that effective commissioning is now more important than ever. Better Commissioning for Autism is a project supported by the AET to examine ways of improving the commissioning of educational provision for children on the autism spectrum throughout England as a result of the 2008 AET research report ‘Educational provision for children and young people on the autism spectrum living in England’ The report’s findings highlighted the need for local authorities to make better use of available data when monitoring provision.

“Getting the commissioning of educational provision right is crucial but it is not a straightforward process,” says Penny Richardson, AET Consultant. “There is no single commissioner and no ‘one size fits all’ answer. This means, that in order to provide children with the best possible support, professionals need to understand and use each stage of the commissioning cycle.”

Commissioning is a cyclical process, which involves identifying a need, providing for that need, monitoring provision, evaluating impact and then revising accordingly. Implementing this cycle fully is fundamental to the complex task of providing effective, high quality and good value educational provision for those on the autism spectrum.

Joint planning and commissioning diagram

The key to the success of the commissioning cycle is the systematic use of a sound evidence base of data. 

‘Councils simply do not currently bring together the information to help them decide which type of provision offer the best value for money’ 2007 Audit Commission (Out of authority placements for special educational needs)

It is important to consider a selection of data samples, ranging from data on where children with statements go to school to absence by type of SEN - there is a huge variety of information available. And wherever possible the data sets should include performance statistics from comparator groups, for example regional, statistical neighbour Local Authorities and the national position. 

Comparing data is key to making a judgement on value for money and it is essential to look beyond what provision is available and question whether it is actually working.

“There is much to be learned by questioning why some local authorities are able to spend less than their statistical neighbours and yet achieve better outcomes. It’s really important to spend time working out what the data is telling us and how we can use it to set indicators and targets for improvement. One of the reasons why commissioning education for those on the autism spectrum is so complex is that using typical outcomes such as attainment to judge how well a service is performing is just too simplistic. We need to be developing tailor-made indicators which are relevant to that particular provision.” Penny Richardson, AET Consultant


Please see the below resources for further information and guidance arising from the ‘Better Commissioning for Autism Education’ project.

• Better Commissioning for Autism Education – Introduction
• Better Commissioning for Autism Education – Local Authority Focus
• Better Commissioning for Autism Education – Guide to Accessing Web-based Data

For information on local authority statistical neighbours visit here.

North Yorkshire Case Study

As part of the Better Commissioning for Autism Education project, AET Consultant Penny Richardson led a seminar for The North Yorkshire Communication and Interaction (C&I) Network in October 2010 to discuss how to improve the often complex task of commissioning educational provision for children and young people on the autism spectrum, leading to better service efficiency and value for money. The seminar brought together key professionals working in autism education in North Yorkshire and aimed to equip participants with the skills needed to analyse data to enhance performance management and service improvement. To find out more, visit the North Yorkshire Better Commissioning Seminar good practice case study here.  

For further information about the Better Commissioning for Autism Education project and seminars, please contact:
Penny Richardson
AET Consultant