At the end of its first year, a trailblazing initiative is celebrating the graduation of its first cohort of Autism Champions to ensure an ‘Autism Friendly’ future for all Torbay schools.
Harnessing their capacity for influencing change, 17 local teachers from primary, secondary, grammar and specialist schools have completed their intensive yearlong 3 tier development training programme to become Autism Champions. As committed ambassadors for students on the autistic spectrum and the first of their kind in the whole of Devon, they are leading through example, successfully instigating culture change within their own schools and supporting their buddy schools.
“We’re so pleased with the enthusiasm and passion of our Autism Champions and the real differences they’re making to the lives of local young people,” says Autism-Friendly Schools Co-ordinator Mary Bruton. Her role involves maximising the impact of the next stage of collaborative working and outreach work whilst ensuring the development, growth and influence of Torbay’s Autism Network. ”Our ultimate goal is for every school in Torbay to have an Autism Champion so that they can best meet the needs of children on the spectrum. With a year under our belt, the initiative is already creating a cultural shift and making schools more autism friendly,” she adds.
Feedback on the “brilliant training by people who really care about ASC” has been positive, with delegates citing professional development, regular networking meetings and the increased ability to organise and ease the transition of Year 6 and Post 16 students with autism amongst its far reaching benefits. “It’s given many teachers the chance to help autistic children and their families concentrate on learning rather than autism. It’s also equipped them with the skills, knowledge and opportunity to even the playing field for autistic young people whilst empowering colleagues to meet more effectively the individual needs of their pupils” adds Mary.
The Autism Implementation Group is now inviting all head teachers in Torbay to nominate inspirational members of staff for recruitment and training, especially those who they consider to be change catalysts. Successful applicants will join the next tranche of Autism Champion training which kicks off in November. During the programme, they will gain an 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.
Autism Champion Training was created in response to a survey conducted 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.
Its vision 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.
“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.
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