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(UK) Autism increased from 50K to 163K in 11 yrs; call for mandatory teacher training

June 1, 2023, tes: Call for mandatory autism training for teachers

Only 14 per cent of secondary school teachers have had more than half a day’s autism training, survey finds

The majority of teachers have had no more than half a day of autism training, according to findings released today.

The findings are contained in a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the National Autistic Society, which is calling for training to be made mandatory.

The report found that just 39 per cent of primary teachers and 14 per cent of secondary teachers have had more than half a day’s autism training.

The charity said these statistics were “not good enough” and that they highlighted “how autistic children and young people are being failed by a woeful lack of appropriate school places and the right support to meet their needs”.

The charity commissioned the NFER to conduct online interviews with 1,428 teachers from 1,204 state schools in England in March.

Despite the lack of training, 87 per cent of teachers said they feel confident supporting autistic pupils.

In comparison, seven in 10 autistic pupils felt teachers do not understand enough about autism, according to the research, which also included 30 interviews with autistic children, parents and teachers at mainstream schools.

The findings suggest that teachers who have “inadequate training” are “left to believe they have adequate understanding”, the charity said….

Bringing in legislation requiring all school staff to be trained in autism would have a “transformative impact on the experiences of autistic children and young people” and would give teachers more confidence that they are supporting their students, the charity said.

The society also called on the government to set up an autism school places taskforce in order to address the “widespread lack of suitable provision”, and said schools and local authorities must work together and share best practice so that all schools rather than just a few in each area are able to support autistic pupils.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools and trusts recognise the importance of more training to help support autistic children and on many other subjects, “but the problem is time and resources, both of which are in desperately short supply”.

The answer is not legislation but for the government to fund schools properly and give them more support for professional development, he added.

Research has found that the number of autism diagnoses has increased by 787 per cent in the past 20 years.
And statistics from the Department for Education show that the number of pupils with autism as their primary special educational need rose from 50,000 in 2009 to around 163,000 in 2020-21.

However, mainstream schools often report struggling to support children who may have been waiting for years for an official diagnosis.

And there is a huge squeeze on specialist places, with special schools under pressure to meet rising demand.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “Given the prevalence of autism among children and young people, it is vital that all school staff feel able to meet the needs of these pupils, but this is not something that can, or should, be covered through initial teacher training alone. Teachers need access to high-quality training and support throughout their careers….

A DfE spokesperson said: “We recognise more needs to be done to support children with SEND, which is why we are putting significant investment into the high-needs budget, worth £10.1 billion [$13B] by 2023-24, which is 50 per cent more than four years ago.

"Within our recently published SEND and AP improvement plan, we set out our vision to improve mainstream education through setting standards for early and accurate identification of need, and timely access to support to meet those needs. We’re also separately developing practice guides to support frontline workers, which will include a practice guide specifically on autism.”


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