The process to find and train Torbay’s future Autism Champions, the first of their kind in the UK, has begun in a bid to make all schools in Torbay truly ‘Autism Friendly’.
The aim is to create a future where children on the autistic spectrum can access a flexible, relevant and meaningful curriculum in mainstream education; where their families feel empowered, reassured and supported; where all members of staff understand their learning, social, emotional and behavioural needs and all schools can tailor their teaching, communication and physical space appropriately.
The catalyst for the trailblazing educational initiative was a recent survey by the Autism Task and Finish group for Torbay Schools’ Forum. It identified that 4% of local young people were on the Autistic spectrum and schools wanted specific training in order to achieve the best outcomes for them.
Over 80 senior leaders and practising teachers from virtually all the primary, secondary, grammar and specialist schools in the Bay packed The Livermead Cliff Hotel in Torquay for a Training Conference to kick start the Initiative’s launch.
During the event, Sarah Harris, Emma Cooper and Jo Clay from Fosse Way Specialist School, the South West specialist regional hub of the National Autism Education Trust, began the first of the year long, three tier training programme. The purpose of the day was to create a common understanding of autism, how it affects young people in school and how children on the autistic spectrum can be helped to build positive relationships within school. Delegates, who wish to be considered for the new role of Autism Champion and have the backing of their head teachers, have already started putting themselves forward for recruitment and selection.
“We’re looking for inspirational nominees who are a change catalyst and passionate about improving outcomes for students with Autism in Torbay,” says Maura, O’Donoghue, project training facilitator who will sit on the Autism Select panel that plans to shortlist Autism Champion trainee candidates after Christmas. “This is a huge initiative to recruit and train committed ambassadors for students on the Autistic spectrum, encourage them to step up to further training and together make local schools truly Autism Friendly,” she adds.
With the capacity for influencing change, the Autism Champion Trainees will embark on an intensive development training programme during 2016. Person- centred, it will have the voice of the pupil at its core.
The intention is to have a designated Autism Champion in each Torbay secondary school. Initially there will also be an Autism Champion for every two to three primary schools who will work with their buddy schools to raise awareness, cascade training and support them on their journey to becoming Autism Friendly. Together they will lead through example and collaborative working, conduct post training Autism Outreach Work, and contribute to Torbay’s Autism Network. They will also be responsible for establishing a local parents’ Autism Group where parents can learn from each other and access different strategies for supporting their children as they mature.
“With a growing awareness of the challenges facing children with autism, it’s the ambition of every local school to become autism friendly and give the right support to every child,” says Mark Eager, Chair Autism Implementation Group and Principal of Brixham College, which has Torbay’s only designated Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) provision within a secondary school setting. “Torbay’s Autism Champions will spread good practise to ensure students feel happy and secure and can flourish and thrive in their local school,” he adds.
‘It’s been great to have the opportunity to have time to reflect on how Autistic children perceive the classroom, teaching and the world around them and has helped us affirm our current good practise’. Says Nigel Porter, Year 3 Class Teacher, Priory Primary School.
“The Autism guidance and information has been excellent and delivered in a really interesting way. The ideas and activities suggested by the trainers will help definitely improve our teaching and our children’s learning, ’ says Dee Passenger, Year 3 Class Teacher, Oldway Primary School.
“As the trainers are teachers as well, they really understand the environment and can draw from their own experiences; teacher to teacher.” Says Emma Child, Reception Class Teacher, Oldway Primary School.Follow