Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

MPs Call for 'Lead Teachers' to Show the Way on Autism: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

MPs Call for 'Lead Teachers' to Show the Way on Autism: News

Article excerpt

Parliamentary report says every school should appoint an expert.

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. …

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