There is something I've noticed as I travel around schools supporting pupils with autism and their teachers.
Autistic children are unhappy in school. Very unhappy. Many of them show this in their behaviour, and it's often because of their behaviour that I'm asked to help. I work with PRUs. They are receiving more and more children, younger and younger who are permanently excluded from mainstream schools. They are traumatised at an early age. Older children too are school refusing, being excluded and let down. Too many are not getting the help, support and life chances they need and deserve.
Senior leaders and teachers usually want to help. They are kind and concerned. Some will admit they haven't had much training about autism or SEND, but are more than willing to learn. They try very hard to implement the advice I give them and often this really does make school better for the child with autism.
But teachers are very, very, very busy. They are under tremendous pressures and look startled if I suggest a strategy that means they might have to find some extra time – which they haven't got. I try my best to prepare resources for them and make the strategy manageable. Teachers will do what they can….but...
But it's not their fault. Teachers are tired, stressed and overwhelmed by the amount of work, the demands of their pupils needs (there's always a good number of children with a wide variety of SEND needs in most classes), the looming of OFSTED and the endless marking and data input. Recently a nursery teacher was worried about the baseline assessment for just 12 children, worried that after only 5 weeks in nursery would the children have made enough progress….yes….really….
The education system has never stopped changing and narrowing since I became a teacher in 1990. I've seen the emerging national curriculum (my first teaching practice was pre-NC so I've seen that too – and it was good teaching) , the introduction of the literacy and numeracy hours, the 'slimming down' of the curriculum, the introduction of SATS in all their guises, baseline assessments, the Foundation Stage and birth to 5 curriculum, league tables and constant pressure, testing and stress put on schools, teachers, parents and ultimately children.
My own personal view is that it is definitely the SYSTEM and the narrow, results driven curriculum that is damaging the children I work with. They are children – but it is harder to push them into the mould of education we now have – they don't fit, and what that does is hurt, damages and destroys SEND (and probably many other) children. Mental ill health is a fear I have for ALL the children I work with. EVERY single one. It's not them. It's not their autism. It's the system.
It's not fit for purpose.
Is anyone going to listen?