Dear Secretary of State
Every teacher deserves the right training. Every child with autism needs a teacher who understands them.
With more than 1 in 100 children on the autism spectrum, every teacher will have autistic pupils in their classes throughout their career. It is one of the most common types of special educational need, and it affects children in every school in the country. Some 70 per cent are educated in mainstream schools. While autism can present some serious difficulties, we know that a child who is understood and supported appropriately can make excellent progress.
One of the biggest factors in determining how well a child with autism succeeds and makes progress at school is how well their autism is understood by their teachers. A survey carried out by the National Autistic Society last year found that 58 per cent of children and young people with autism believe that the single thing that would make school better for them is ‘if teachers understood autism’. Research by Ambitious About Autism found that over half of parents of children with autism have kept their child off school because of a lack of appropriate support in the classroom.
Yet training for teachers in special educational needs generally, and autism in particular, remains patchy, with significant gaps. Some teachers have received no SEN training at all. Teachers are clear that they want this training, especially in autism: a survey conducted by the NASUWT in 2013 found that 60 per cent of teachers believe that they haven’t had the training they need to teach pupils who are on the autism spectrum.
Every teacher should learn about autism as part of their initial teacher training. It should be included in the new ‘framework of content’ for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses that is being developed for your Department by an expert group chaired by Stephen Munday. This group’s work offers an excellent opportunity to set out clearly what trainee teachers should learn in terms of supporting children with particular types of SEN, including autism.
Putting this into practice would be straightforward: suitable content already exists. The Autism Education Trust, supported by the Department for Education, offers a training programme for education professionals that could be adapted and incorporated into initial teacher training.
We urge you to make sure that every future teacher learns about autism at the beginning of their career by including autism in initial teacher training. The right training will help give every autistic child a teacher who understands them, enabling them to succeed at school and beyond.
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