We are very fortunate to work with so many enthusiastic and driven professionals who are committed to making a difference to the lives of autistic children and young people. We interviewed one of them, Kevin Baskerville from Leicestershire County Council Autism Outreach Team.
About Kevin and his team:
Leicestershire Autism Outreach Team (AOT) was the first AOT created in the country in 1993. We support our 325 schools and our scope has meant that we have worked at a regional, national and international level across the education sector. Leicestershire AOT regularly delivers training to over 10,000 participants per year. The AOT has 3 elements to it, a schools team (6 teachers and 2 practitioners), an intensive support team (working with students that find accessing mainstream schools a difficulty) and we have our own ‘Response to ABA’ team supporting ABA interventions in a few primary schools across the county. While under pressure, as with all LA’s, Leicestershire AOT continues to thrive, is highly regarded by schools, parents and fellow professionals around the area and beyond.
Q1: Why did you decide to become an AET Partner?
AOT had been involved in the East Midlands Autism Group (EMAG) and discussions had taken place through EMAG about the development of a consistent programme building on from the IDP (Integrated Disability Programme). AET was in its infancy when Leicestershire joined along with a Nottinghamshire partner. The major motivation was to develop a consistent package but to be involved almost from the start to shape this package as required.
Q2: What sort of challenges do autistic children and young people face in education settings in your area?
Like most areas the pressures of achievement as the ONLY measure of success within schools pressurises the schools to focus on that rather than creating an inclusive environment for learning. True integration needs to be seen as success with all children achieving their potential.
The above issues are perpetuated by issues with funding and time. Schools do not (often) ring-fence their SEN budget and are less prepared to pay out for additional resources, training or staff because the results may not produce the results that they are to be measured on. Schools have so much material that they have to cover within the curriculum and/or statutory requirements that finding the time to take on additional training can be a challenge.
The above pressures have led to an increase in schools off-rolling, excluding and/or promotion of parents home educating, this especially set against the academisation agenda.
The more that schools can be measured against their inclusionary ability or can see themselves as an inclusive setting, then there will be improvements for young people with ASD.
Q3: Can the AET programme help with these challenges?
The AET programme brings a consistent message that would be echoed across a county, a region, nationally and then echoed throughout a school or partnership of schools. The AET message has been independently researched by the University of Warwick and this together with the fact that all training carries accreditation and the DfE stamp of approval offers a kudos to the type of training. Other reports such as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA) report of autism provision supports the use of AET.
As time is a challenge within a setting if there is a consistent approach and a consistent message then people would know where they are at with the individual. AET can bring this.
Within Leicestershire, we’ve embedded AET into the heart of the statutory assessment framework through SENA, so that we can look at levels of training and use of the standards document to illustrate how much input the school have put into training their staff and increasing knowledge.
With parents having a better understanding of the AET programme, along with school governors, Early Help staff and other professionals with a peripheral involvement in education we can encourage consistent approaches beyond the education sphere.
Q4: Is there anything specific you like about the AET programme?
Matching the AET Autism Standards with the training that is delivered can maintain the momentum generated through a training session. The training is good but, like any training, it then needs to be interpreted in action. I find the Standards help to do this. The materials are colourful and come with a useful guide/resource booklet to help support the key messages.
Q5: What was your most memorable moment as an AET trainer?
I was invited to deliver AET training in Tanzania, on behalf of the Tanzanian government. I worked with over 100 staff for a few days and then repeated a year later before then taking the training into the government schools. I was able to refer back to things discussed within the training to support the message that was offered. I love going back to settings within our system and hearing how information has been implemented and it being evident that people have adjusted based on information that they have acquired through training.
Q6: Did the AET programme help shape your local authority’s response to autism?
It continues to and plays a part in shaping the response. It strengthened our position within an authority because of the prestige that was brought for being a strategic lead for ASC for the East Midlands. The development of Lead Practitioner meetings, discussions about a common language around autism through AET terminology has really helped a consistent message.
Q7: What are your plans for the future?
We look to develop an offer to all early years providers, encourage more schools to implement standards, progression framework and competency tools; we’re encouraging more schools to partner up with neighbours and/or others to put on the most cost-effective training across the county and beyond + we look to expand the message across the region into LA’s where AET has not penetrated.
Q8: Would you recommend an AET partnership to other organisations? And why?
Absolutely, for the reasons mentioned above. As Ofsted become more aware of the AET then it will become more relevant to organisations. The Code of Practice is quite clear on the need for schools to invest in the CPD of their staff in relation to SEN, as part of the graduated approach, for children with ASD then the AET can deliver this for the setting.