From education to employment

Finished at School: Supporting young people with autism to move from school to college

Fewer than one in four young people with autism progress on to any form of education or training after school. This means they miss out on the opportunity to learn skills, gain experience and realise their potential to prepare for fulfilling adult lives.

This term and next, FE colleges across England are hosting a Department for Education funded staff training programme to improve school to college transition for young people with autism, including those with complex autism. Ambitious about Autism, a national charity for children and young people with autism, is delivering the Finished at School courses in partnership with the Association of Colleges and the National Association for Special Education Needs (nasen).

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects approximately 1 in 100 people in the UK. It affects the way a person communicates and how they experience the world around them.

Four areas that will have an impact of the lives of most young people with autism:

  1. Communication and interaction
  2. Social understanding
  3. Interests and information processing
  4. Sensory processing

The Finished at School training is based on the learning from a recent programme of Government funded development projects to support the further education sector to prepare for their new responsibilities under the Children and Families Act 2014.

The programme centred around four college-led hubs:

  1. Askham Bryan College
  2. Bromley College
  3. Ealing Hammersmith and West London College and
  4. Gloucestershire College.

Each college working with local mainstream (around 70% of children with autism are educated in mainstream schools) and special secondary schools identified a group of young people with autism to support in their move from school to college and worked closely with the young people and their parents over the two years.

The evaluation of this project found that a key success factor was the local transition partnerships formed. Gloucestershire College’s partnership included: a senior education psychologist from the local authority; the Autism Lead from the Advisory Teaching Service; an assistant principal from a local independent specialist provider; a parent (a governor of a school partner, whose son with autism has made the move from school to college); the Case Responsible Officer for learners with SEND from the Youth Support team; and the chair from the Gloucestershire Adult Autism Strategy Board.

Stronger partnerships and focussed planning were also found to be crucial to improving school to college transition. As the Bromley college lead explained:

     “Early engagement with the local authority in planning meetings leads to better resources being commissioned. Learners with autism who started at Bromley college in September 2014 have access to speech and language therapy and one learner has occupational therapy input…”

Each hub received three days training on person-centred reviews to support the development of outcomes-focussed planning for transition, learning programmes and review meetings.

The colleges ran general awareness training for staff as well as specialist training for teaching staff and training for managers. The curriculum offer was reviewed in each college and new courses and facilities were developed.

An independent evaluation of the Finished at School programme carried out by CEDAR at the University of Warwick found:

  • The Finished at School Programme supported young people with autism to make an active choice of post–school destination.
  • In its first year, the project supported 45 young people to make a positive transition from school to sixth form or college. Two more cohorts of young people are being supported to transition in September 2015 and September 2016.
  • In the four areas where the project was taking place, there was evidence of staff skills being developed, improved person–centred planning, new curriculum pathways and better access to college life for young people with autism.

Each objective of the current Finished at School training course is linked directly to duties in the 2014 SEND Code of practice. The learning from the programme is captured in the Finished at School guide given to each person attending the one day training with an accompanying self-audit tool to support a review of their provision and the development of a cross-organisation action plan.

College staff are encouraged to attend with local transition partners and the opportunity to spend time with local partner organisations has been highlighted as one of the most valued aspects of the training day. Two e-learning modules developed with Helen Sanderson Associates one on person-centred thinking tools and the other running preparing for adulthood reviews will also be available. 

Yola Jacobsen, Head of Projects at Ambitious about Autism

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