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Train college staff in autism awareness, new report recommends

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All college staff should have access to autism awareness training, a new report has recommended.

The proposal stems from an evaluation of a unique college-led project which has helped dozens of young people with autism continue their education beyond school.

Four FE colleges worked with schools and other agencies to improve the transition from school to further education of more than 110 young people with autism. The Finished at School programme was run by the Department for Education and charity Ambitious about Autism between April 2013 and March this year.

The project was established as a result of research from the charity, which found that fewer than one in four young people with the condition continued their education beyond school.

Now an independent report by researchers from the University of Warwick reveals the first cohort of 45 young people in the project, who left school in summer 2014, all made successful transitions to post-GCSE education, with 34 of them going on to attend FE colleges.

It says the four institutions which took part - Askham Bryan College in York, Gloucestershire College, Bromley College and Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College – were successful in engaging a mix of mainstream and special schools in the project.

The report makes a number of recommendations for FE colleges, including that all college staff should have access to autism awareness training, and that college representatives should attend annual school reviews from year 9 onwards for any learner with complex autism who is likely to go on to attend the college.

The aim of the project was for the college “hubs” to: develop staff skills; improve person-centered transition planning; strengthen assessment processes; develop new curriculum pathways; and improve access to college life.

The report says there was “substantial evidence” of a positive impact in all these areas.

It adds that, as a result of the project, the four hubs have improved and extended their local partnerships, and all four colleges have now included support for autism into their strategic plans.

“In short, the Finished at School programme has demonstrated that, with locally co-ordinated, person-centred transition planning, reasonable adjustments, and appropriate support, many more young people with complex autism can access local college life successfully,” it says.

Liz Maudslay, policy manager for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities for the Association of Colleges, said the report's recommendations were “of great importance for all students with special education needs and disabilities, as this will mean they can get the type of education or training they need to build a future career”.

“The recommendation for person-centred approaches, such as individual, tailored study programmes, is a positive move because this is valuable not just for the students with autism, but also for all students with learning difficulties and disabilities... Tailored study programmes mean each student receives the right level of support for their particular need and they can work at their own level of ability,” she added.

The DfE has now commissioned a follow-on project called Succeeding at College.

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