Today, I won a commitment from the Government after I asked a question about autism in today’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions.
After receiving dozens of emails from local parents of autistic children and young people in the past few weeks, I wanted to raise one aspect of the many challenges that come with raising an autistic child.
One local case involving a bright 14 year old boy who, after being diagnosed with autism when he was 8 years old and had thrived in a local primary school, has been removed from a secondary school in her constituency, and placed in a special school for boys with behavioural problems. The boy’s mum found school staff unwilling or unable to commit the time or understanding to learn more about his individual triggers and needs, and rather than help him to learn how to manage these triggers, resorted to numerous referrals to its Individual Learning Centre to ‘chill out’ – essentially isolating him from his peers.
Due to the Prime Minister being in Japan, George Osborne was standing in for him.
“I have a 14-year-old autistic constituent, who got on very well at primary school, but since moving to secondary school, its uncompromising one-size-fits-all approach has left him with a special school as his only option. What will the Chancellor do to make sure that when the independent expert group looking at initial teacher training reports back, Ministers will ensure that specific autism training forms part of their curriculum?”
George Osborne, the Chancellor replied,
“The hon. Lady raises an important issue, and I think she will receive a lot of sympathy from colleagues of all parties. The Education Secretary shares her concern and has personally raised the issue with the chair of the initial teacher training review, Stephen Munday. My right hon. Friend has stressed the importance of ensuring that teachers are properly trained to support young people with special educational needs and specifically autism. As a result, the chairman will include recommendations in the report on how core teacher training should cover special educational needs. The report will be published shortly.”
Signaling a big commitment from the Government the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan tweeted a commitment to the issue which I raised,
“As outlined at #PMQs we want Initial Teacher Training to include focus on SEN including specifically supporting children with autism” (Tweet by Nicky Morgan, 25 May 2016)
I’m really pleased to see the Government taking seriously the preparation our teachers get for teaching autistic children in our schools. Many of our local schools teach our autistic young people in a really inclusive and understanding way, but others seem to really struggle. When I learnt that SEN (Special Educational Needs) and autism can amount to as little as 15 minutes of a teacher training course I called for the review into teacher training to address this. All teachers will, throughout their career, teach autistic children and its right they are given training specifically on this.
After this Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said,
“We’re grateful to Cat Smith MP for backing the need for more autism training for teachers.
"We, alongside Ambitious about Autism and over 7,000 of our supporters, including other MPs and teaching staff, have been campaigning for the Government to include autism in Initial Teacher Training.
“Thanks to their active support, the Government has listened and recognised the need to give teachers the training they need to help autistic children.
"There are around 120,000 school-aged children on the autism spectrum in England so every teacher is bound to have autistic students in their classes. Yet training for teachers in special educational needs, and autism in particular, is patchy. And some teachers have received none at all.
“We don’t expect teachers to be experts in autism. But a basic knowledge of the lifelong condition and the support children need would make a huge difference to their students.
"Every teacher deserves the right training, and every autistic child needs a teacher who understands them.”