MPs call for 'lead teachers' to show the way on autism

Parliamentary report says every school should appoint an expert

Kerra Maddern

Every school should have a member of staff with expertise in teaching children with autistic spectrum disorders, according to a report by a group of MPs and peers.

Too many pupils with the complex disability do not have access to regular specialist support, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism found. It recommended that every school should appoint a "lead teacher" for the condition who would share best practice with other specialists.

Parents, teachers and pupils gave evidence to an inquiry held by the group this year, with many claiming that teachers are not given enough training to teach and support children with autism. The group estimates that there are around 88,000 school-age children with autism in England.

Josie Ryan, a young person with autism, told the inquiry of the difficulties she experienced at a mainstream school. "I really didn't enjoy it, because the lack of understanding from teachers is quite ridiculous, actually," she said. "Most teachers don't even know it (autism) exists. When I was in mainstream schooling, they didn't have any idea what it was."

The report responded: "We believe that where good practice exists it should be shared. Some specialism is likely to exist in each area of the country - for example, in a special school or in an autism unit in a mainstream school.

"Too often, the opportunity is missed to solve a problem by capitalising on local expertise."

The report calls for a system that would ensure all state-funded schools were able to draw on the expert knowledge of autism that exists in other schools within their area.

Having access to expertise leads to pupils with autism making better progress, according to Cathy Clarke, headteacher of King's Oak Primary in New Malden, Surrey. The school has a specialist autism unit with 28 children and three members of staff. Pupils spend time in the unit and in mainstream classes.

"Having this level of expertise within the school creates an ethos where everyone understands autism and means we can put in place personalised learning for children," said Ms Clarke.

"All teachers have had training and the expectation is that they can meet children's needs when they spend time in their class. Having a leader and advocate in school for children with autism means there is a general acceptance, understanding and valuing of what their condition means - not just from staff, but also among pupils."

Steve Huggett, director of the Autism Education Trust, said that some school special educational needs coordinators would need extra training in order to become lead teachers for autism.

"They might not have the detailed knowledge in that particular area," he said. "The idea of schools sharing their expertise with others is an excellent one. Good schools have credibility with other schools."

Art for Autism

Teachers across Britain have been invited to judge an art award for young people with autism.

TES readers can vote online for one of the winners of this year's Create! Art for Autism Awards, which were set up to challenge the stereotype that students with autistic spectrum conditions lack creativity.

Among the 25 works shortlisted from 550 entries is a piece by 16-year-old David Greenberg of Inscape House School in Salford, who surprised his family by decorating a bathmat with a group of Scottish bagpipers, using the suckers for their faces.

Other shortlisted entries include Rebecca Tom's My Frog (pictured), a painting of Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch by Carrie Francis, and a stop-motion animation by Lewis Davies set to the Beatles song She's Leaving Home.

A poetry category has been introduced for the first time, to show that autistic students can also be linguistically creative.

The awards were set up by Beechwood College, a residential school for students with autistic spectrum conditions in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales.

A panel of judges including Beechwood principal Darren Jackson, actor Jane Asher, television presenter Gaby Roslin and TES deputy editor Michael Shaw have already chosen the winners of the 2D, 3D, poetry and digital arts categories, which will be announced on 6 July.

However, the "people's choice" category will remain open for online voting until midnight on 1 July.

Register your vote at bit.lyK2itBp.

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Kerra Maddern

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