teacher 2The government’s announcement that the initial teacher training review will recommend that special educational needs are included in core teacher training has been welcomed by a leading autism charity.

At yesterday’s [May 25] Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour MP Cat Smith asked: “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?”

In response, Chancellor George Osborne – standing in for Prime Minister David Cameron – said: “The Education Secretary [Nicky Morgan] 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.” 

Morgan herself confirmed this shortly afterwards on Twitter (@NickyMorgan01): “As outlined at #PMQs we want Initial Teacher Training to include focus on SEN including specifically supporting children with autism”.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, welcomed the announcement: “[This] announcement is very promising and, if followed through, will transform the prospects of generations of children on the autism spectrum.

“More than 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum, and over 70% go to mainstream schools, so every teacher will teach autistic students during their careers. Yet, autism training has historically not been mandatory for teachers, and some start school with no special educational needs training at all. 

“Over 7,000 people, including MPs and school staff, signed our joint letter with Ambitious about Autism to Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, earlier this year, calling for autism to be included in initial teacher training. We're very pleased the government has listened to their voices and recognised the need to give teachers the training they need to help autistic children.

“Teachers don't need to be experts in autism. But a general knowledge of the lifelong condition and the different ways it can affect a child's time in school will make a huge difference. For instance, some children really struggle with change, so much so that a new seating plan or lesson structure can be extremely distressing. Simple changes, like gradually preparing a child for changes and communicating them carefully, can make a huge difference.

“Every teacher deserves the right training, and every autistic child needs a teacher who understands them.”