Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blog recommendation: James Cusack

James, who has worked closely with us on our campaign for an autism bill in Scotland, has started his own blog. His first entry talks about how teachers’ awareness of autism has improved over the last twenty years.

You can read James’ blog at

Friday, September 23, 2011

NAS at the Lib Dem party conference

The NAS policy and campaigns team have had an exciting week at the Liberal Democrat party conference, discussing education issues with key party members.

On Sunday night, we hosted an education event with Ambitious About Autism, bringing together politicians and parents of children with autism. The Minister for Children and Families Sarah Teather MP and Liberal Democrat Party President Tim Farron MP both spoke to a packed room and engaged in a lively and interesting debate on SEN issues.

We engaged with an impressive 17 Lib Dem MPs and Lords, making new parliamentary friends and updating long-term champions who regularly raise issues affecting people with autism.

We talked with Simon Wright MP about the rights of pupils without SEN statements, and discussed school transport with Tom Brake MP. Jenny Willot MP is now planning to visit one of our NAS schools, whilst Dan Rogerson MP has agreed to ask questions in Parliament about access to speech and language therapists.

Lots of the politicians we spoke to had first hand experience of autism – whether through their own families, friends or constituents.  This was a great opportunity for us to advise them on how best they can improve the lives of everyone affected and make sure autism stays on the Government’s agenda. 

We got lots of commitments from MPs and we’ll make sure they stick to them!

Parliament debates post-16 transition for disabled young people

Stephen Lloyd MP recently tabled a debate in Parliament on support for disabled young people.

The debate aimed to focus particularly on transition post-16 for young people with a disability.

Mr Lloyd drew on the National Autistic Society’s Make School Make Sense campaign to talk about this.

He pointed to statistics in the campaign report that found that although it’s a legal obligation for young people with disabilities to have a transition plan, only 53% of young people with statements actually receive them. According to the report, this figure is only 34% in mainstream schools, and 45% of those who participated in transition planning were dissatisfied with the process.

Mr Lloyd also questioned the recent closure of support programmes, and called for provision of key workers to co-ordinate services post-16.

Kate Green MP raised the issue of the loss of Education Maintencance Allowance and the Connexions service, and asked whether the Government is assessing the impact of this on disabled young people.

Much of the rest of the debate focused on concerns around benefit changes and most notably, the changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which currently focus on adult DLA. The NAS is working hard on the proposed changes to adult DLA. To find out more go to

Responding to the debate, Disabilities Minister Maria Miller agreed that post-16 provision needed to be more joined-up. She said that the proposed changes to the SEN system would mean that young people with a disability, would be able to access an Education, Health and Care Plan, which will replace statements, up to the age of 25.

The National Autistic Society has welcomed the proposal to extend these plans to the age of 25. However, we are also working to ensure that those with SEN who do not have an Education, Health and Care Plan or statement can also access the support they need.

Friday, September 9, 2011

NAS schools highlighted in Parliamentary debate

On Tuesday 6th September, Annette Brooke MP secured a debate in Parliament on the importance of non-maintained and independent special schools (NMISS). She called for greater recognition of their role as reforms to special educational needs are taken forward.

She commended the “excellent specialist provision” provided by the sector, and pointed out that the National Autistic Society runs six independent special schools - all of which are recognised as excellent.

The NAS, along with the National Association of Independent and Non-Maintained Schools (NASS), believes that the Government’s Green Paper on SEN provision overlooks the role of NMISS; Annette Brooke raises several of these concerns.

She noted that the Green Paper offers parents the right to express a preference for any state-funded school, but does not extend this right to NMISS. She proposed that this may be based on a misconception that NMISS placements are always the most expensive option, and called for more research into the cost-effectiveness of the sector.

Sarah Teather (Minister of State for Children and Families) stressed that the Government was still gathering views on the Green Paper proposal, and encouraged members of the NMISS sector to submit any evidence they have relating to cost-effectiveness.

She said Independent and non-maintained special schools play a valuable role in supporting some of our most vulnerable children and young people, many of whom have very complex needs, and they also have considerable expertise to offer other schools”.

The NAS believes that the wide spectrum of needs among children with autism requires a wide spectrum of educational provision, including mainstream schools, special schools, specialist units attached to mainstream schools and residential provision. The key thing in any of these settings in access to autism expertise. 

Read our position statement on inclusion on our website.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Autism Education Trust highlights importance of staff training

The NAS welcomes a new piece of research published by the Autism Education Trust (AET). The AET looked in detail at sixteen schools which are considered to demonstrate good practice in educating young people with autism. The sample included special and mainstream schools, and provision from early years up to 19-year-olds.

The research found that staff at these good practice schools were highly motivated and very well-trained. The heads and senior leadership of the schools had a thorough understanding of autism, and appreciated the role of staff in allowing their pupils to achieve well. Regular training was a feature for all staff, from senior leaders through to administrators and school bus drivers. Many schools also shared their experience with other schools in the area.

The good practice schools also focused on developing strong relationships with pupils and their families, listening to pupils’ own opinions on their learning and activities. They also understood that the education requirements for children with autism are much broader than for those without autism.

The NAS’ Great Expectations survey also demonstrated the importance of training for education professionals. We found that only 53% of children feel happy at school generally, but this rises to 86% when they feel their teacher has a good understanding of autism.

The AET’s findings reinforce the point that with the right training, teachers can  feel confident about supporting children with autism and provide them with outstanding education.

You can read more about Great Expectations at