Insufficient investment in education is a topic that has been attracting media attention lately. These cuts are sending our schools into crisis and have an enormous impact on children with Special Educational Needs and Disability. (SEND)
In the UK, more than 70% of children with autism go to mainstream schools. Furthermore, in 2018, 28.2% of children and young people who have Educational Health Care Plans have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. (ASD)
Everyone has a right to fulfil their true potential in life. Speaking as a mum of a child who has an EHC Plan and a diagnosis of ASD, and previously working as a 1:1 Learning Support Assistant (LSA) within a mainstream school; I believe that attending school can be an overwhelming process for a child on the autism spectrum. Just think about it… even having to sit down at a table with a group of children, trying to focus on the lesson, appose to concentrating on sitting up straight without fidgeting can be very demanding.
I believe that the main challenges that mainstream schools face, when providing an inclusive provision are:
Lack of funds
Not utilizing their resources effectively.
Lack of funds
With a shortage of special educational needs funding, causing schools and Local Authorities struggling to manage restricted budgets while fulfilling their legal obligation to children with SEND; we are seeing an increase of parents going through tribunal to guarantee support for their children. It’s mindboggling that it’s 2018 and this is happening!
We are seeing more schools exclude children. It is unlawful to exclude children who have additional needs without making reasonable adjustments, and it must be in the best welfare of the pupil. (Equality Act 2010, Chapter 4) The headteacher must follow the Education Act 2011 (Part 2: Discipline) when deciding to exclude a child.
The lack of funds makes it difficult for schools to invest in teachers and adequate resources to meet the needs of children with SEND.
I feel that teachers are undervalued, overworked and underpaid. With endless amounts of workload, it is no wonder why we have an issue with recruiting teachers. Furthermore, I feel that teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the UK. How can you make teaching appealing when in my circumstance, I could work as a checkout cashier for the same pay?
The two central motivators to get into teaching, as a parent are having working hours that fit around your child/children and making a difference to the children that you teach. As a 1:1 LSA, I took pride in my job and had a duty of care to the child I was teaching. I went above and beyond my line of duty.
We are seeing more schools investing in recruitment agencies to temporarily cover their staff to child ratio, (legal requirement). This can sometimes mean that the person is not invested in the school as they are only there temporarily.
The SEND Code of Practice ensures that every school has a SENDCO, who represents children who have special educational needs and disabilities, and ensures that all special needs provisions are met in schools. With limited staffing levels and pay cuts, we are seeing more SENDCOs who are also class teachers. With teachers being stretched to their limits, how can we ensure that children on the autism spectrum are given a fair opportunity to thrive in mainstream schools?
The job requirement of understanding autism when applying to be a 1:1 LSA is desirable, not essential. However, once an assistant is employed, they must complete an Initial Teacher Training, with the framework published in 2016 to include training on how to support children on the autism spectrum. (Read this link for more information: https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/media-centre/news/2016-07-12-teacher-training.aspx)
I believe that with schools having a high turnover of staff and difficulty recruiting people, the training is rushed. To start a job in a school you have endless amounts of paperwork to fill in, and a lot of training modules to complete. I feel that there is an eagerness to get you in to start and work, so sometimes the knowledge from training does not get retained.
I am lucky because I have hands-on experience of understanding autism. There is no off button, it’s my life! I still feel that there is a lack of awareness when it comes to autism in the school environment and inconsistencies in understanding and perception. Don’t get me wrong, I have come across brilliant teachers who are worth their weight in gold, but there are also others who are clueless when it comes to autism.
For someone who has never worked with or been around an autistic child, it can be a daunting experience. You have that psychological barrier as in fear of the unknown, worry about not getting it right and the misperception that every autistic person is the same as each other. In addition to the confusion of why one strategy works for one child on the autism spectrum and not for another. That’s why it is crucial to teach the way children learn. Children on the autism spectrum are different from each other because people are different from each other.
Being a 1:1, you must have the confidence to make decisions for that child in their best interest, even if it is unfavourable to others around who lack understanding of the nature of autism. A suggestion I have is having at least one specialist teacher (in addition to a SENDCO) in every mainstream school. This teacher will ensure that continuous training is being implemented and assist with incorporating sensory integration.
The specialist teacher could educate others about sensory sensitivity with focus on vestibular and proprioceptive input and make recommendations of how to make reasonable adjustments to help children on the autism spectrum.
I would be naive to say that every autistic child should go to a mainstream school as some children have complex needs that cannot be met in a mainstream environment; even with enough training. The Special Education Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 assess if special educational provisions may be required.
A valuable resource that must not be overlooked are parents. Yes! You are experts and have a unique insight into your child. Parents are partners with teachers and should be encouraged to talk to teachers to share ideas.
My son flourishes best with structure and routine. He struggles, however with the perception of time and has difficulty seeing things from another person’s perspective. He attends mainstream school and throughout his education and at home had to do additional learning to help develop his understanding of social skills and emotions. Even teaching him inferences and metaphors requires a different teaching approach to conventional methods. So, how do I make this work? By building a strong relationship with his teachers and SENDCO. Without this communication, it is hard to move things forward.
I would class my son as an inbetweener, meaning he fits in between mainstream and special needs school. My son has this amazing ability to remember conversations word by word from years ago; so, I use this skill as a strategy to teach him. I also teach him by adapting the curriculum to make it more relatable to him and fit it into his logical way of thinking.
From previous experience, I feel that the resources available in schools are not being utilized effectively. I believe this is a training issue from lack of understanding of how to use them. Hence why a specialist teacher is needed.
It is useful to have a pupil passport so that every teacher who works with that child/young person knows their likes/dislikes/what helps them learn/what helps them relax. Here are two templates that I have made:
I believe that early intervention is fundamental to help support someone on the autism spectrum.
I am lucky that my son received his autism spectrum diagnosis at a young age, as from what I read, a lot of children do not have a diagnosis until they are in their teens.
I feel that resources can be used from Early Years throughout the school years, having the use of:
Visual timetables and Now and Next boards
Here are two Now and Next templates that I have created:
Interactive and sequenced learning games
I have created an interactive alphabet activity. (just to give you an idea)
- Print off the alphabet activity template
- Laminate the sheets: another option is to print on card (your choice of colour.)
- Cut out the letters
- Apply Velcro onto the back of the letters and onto the grey boxes on the second sheet
- Place the letters onto the grey squares, leaving a few empty squares.
- Now you can play fill in the missing alphabet sequence
You can also mix up the letters and encourage the person playing to sequence the letters in the correct order.
Alphabet Activity Template:
Emotions activities and traffic light systems
Encouraging movement breaks and the use of fidget toys
You can give children books that are visual and support repetitive language. All of these resources can be used for neurotypical children as well as children suspected of being on the autism spectrum.
Give a child that choice to go to a sensory room/garden to desensitise. Offer autistic children an extra P.E lesson per week in smaller groups. This will help to improve motor skills, gain social skills by following instructions and is sometimes needed for sensory input. Children who suffer from anxiety and/or have attachment issues can also benefit from this. It’s all about inclusion, not isolation!
Last, but not least is using Makaton from early years. (for children/young people who struggle with speech) Some nurseries already adopt the use of Makaton and beyond the myth that signing inhibits children from speaking, it, in fact, encourages it. Just think of it as a visual prompt.
There needs to be more willingness to understand autism in mainstream schools, and training. More money needs to be invested in resources and specialist teachers need to be employed to help promote continuous training, ensuring that the resources are being used effectively. That will give some autistic children a chance to thrive in mainstream schools.