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Call 12: Support our pupils and teachers: embed understanding of ASN in initial teacher training and ongoing development

By Charlene Tait

We want to see every child in Scotland reach their potential. The presumption of mainstreaming means early career teachers will expect to be teaching learners who have a wide range of additional support needs (ASN) including autism. As a result, we need an education system staffed by teachers and support staff who feel confident in their skills to meet pupils’ individual needs.

All teachers, including those who are experienced, need support to adapt to the individual learning styles of autistic pupils, and to their sensory and communication needs.

Recent research by Scottish Autism, the National Autistic Society and Children in Scotland, laid out in the report Not Included, Not Involved, Not Engaged, indicates that autistic children are experiencing unacceptable levels of formal and unlawful exclusion in Scotland’s schools. This not only has an impact on pupil health and wellbeing but also has an emotional, practical and economic impact on their families.

Other research also demonstrates the impact on those in the teaching profession. Approximately 62 per cent of class/subject teachers said they had experienced stress and professional anxiety due to the thought of not having the right support to meet the needs of children and young people who have learning disabilities. Almost all (98 per cent) of the education workforce felt that teacher training does not adequately prepare them for teaching young people who have learning disabilities.

These findings support recommendations put forward in the report:

The Scottish Government should urgently extend plans to gather evidence on initial teacher education programmes’ coverage of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing to include coverage of additional support for learning needs within those measurements.

Programmes of initial teacher training and Continual Professional Development should be enhanced to improve understanding of autism.

Teachers need support to augment their skills in a way that enables them to understand the impact of autism on learning and behaviour.

When behaviour is understood in the context of the school environment, peer and teacher interactions offer a more holistic understanding of the child, and their needs can be established. Training should not focus solely on pupil behaviour but should support education professionals to recognise the relational aspects of practice and take account of how teachers can adjust their approach and classroom practice to better support pupils.

We call for education professionals to be supported with theoretical and practical knowledge to enable them to ensure pupils are meaningfully included and accessing learning in all educational settings. For this to happen we believe there should be a compulsory element on autism within initial teacher education; the rationale being that the teaching and learning strategies that are essential for autistic pupils will be beneficial for all children.

But initial teacher training is a starting point for effective teaching practice. A systematic approach to the CPD of new and experienced teachers is required to ensure they are equipped with the most accurate current and developing knowledge.

This could be achieved through a more strategic roll-out of The Autism Toolbox, a resource for schools developed by the Scottish Government and Scottish Autism, by developing a training pathway that utilises e-learning along with mentoring support from within the teaching profession, the autistic community and the third sector, and by learning from models of national training initiatives such as that developed by The Autism Education Trust in England. Mentoring for teachers such as the Synergy programme developed by AT-Autism show promising outcomes for relatively small investment.

It is time to take a different approach so that education professionals can teach those with additional needs with confidence, and all children benefit from our education system. If we want things to be different, we have to do something different.

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General Comment 9 – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: '...children with disabilities have the same right to education as all other children and shall enjoy this right without any discrimination...'

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United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

General Comment 9: "...children with disabilities have the right to education as all other children..."

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