Every school should have a lead teacher for autism, MPs have said after hearing about a lack of specialist support for students with the condition.
A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPG) says that teachers are not being given enough training to be able to support children with the condition effectively.
MPs also conclude that the lack of specialist support leads many parents to feel that schools simply do not understand autism.
The report, The Right Start, is based on research conducted earlier this year, including a public survey of 1,000 people and two hearings, at which MPs quizzed teachers, SEN experts and young people.
Autism is a lifelong disability that affects the way a person communicates with and relates to other people. Around one in 100 people has autism, including 88,000 school-aged children in England – the largest group with SEN statements.
The MPs’ survey found that 89 per cent of parents or teachers of children with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism said that teaching staff do not get enough training to teach and support children with autism effectively.
During the hearings, Josie Ryan, a young person with autism and young patron of the charity Ambitious about Autism, told MPs about her experience of going to a mainstream school: “I really didn’t enjoy it, because the lack of understanding from teachers is quite ridiculous, actually. Most teachers don’t even know (autism) exists. They didn’t have any idea what it was.”
Dr Glenys Jones, a lecturer in autism at the University of Birmingham, echoed this: “School is one of the most challenging places if you’ve got autism. (Children with autism are) often misunderstood, viewed as over-anxious or difficult by the professionals and not given the support they need, particularly with the able and verbal group.”
The Autism Education Trust is currently rolling out government-funded basic autism training to 5,000 school staff in selected areas by 2012/13. Two more advanced levels of training are being developed for those who work more closely with autistic children. However, the MPs have now called for this to be rolled out fully to the South West, East and North East of England, and Yorkshire and Humberside – areas it does not cover at the moment.
The MPs’ report comes after plans to overhaul SEN provision by 2014 were unveiled in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year. They will see formal SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments scrapped and replaced with a single Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) setting out the support that a child with SEN needs. School Action and School Action Plus assessments will be replaced by a single category of SEN.
The plans will also place a duty on local authorities to map out a “local offer” detailing the specialist support available for SEN children. MPs want to see this extended, with local authorities also mapping out local training needs for SEN, including autism. Authorities should also identify where specialist autism knowledge is available in schools, MPs said, and support the sharing of this with other schools.
Elsewhere, the report also highlights a lack of specialist support in schools, citing the fact that 30 per cent of parents say their child’s educational placement is not adequate. The report adds: “The lack of available specialist support often leads parents to feel that schools do not understand autism.”
However, MPs also reported a fear among professionals about “the potential impact of local authority cuts on specialist services”.
When MPs asked which professionals, apart from teachers, make a difference in supporting children with autism at school, speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, autism advisory teachers, occupational therapists and behaviour support teams were all identified as “crucial”.
As a result, the report is calling for a lead teacher for autism to be trained for every school. It also says that children with autism should be able to access specialist support regardless of whether they have an SEN statement (or EHCP from 2014).
MPs also called for parents and children to be fully involved in decisions about the support they receive after seeing evidence that some parents were not being consulted. The report calls on the government to ensure the SEN reforms “encourage schools to work closely with parents to capitalise on their knowledge and understanding of their child’s autism”.
Chair of the APPG, Robert Buckland MP, said: “There are too many instances where parents are left feeling that their child’s needs are not being met and where teachers are left without the necessary specialist training or resources. A transformation of the SEN system is vital.”
To download the report, visit www.appga.org.uk.