A new postgraduate qualification for teachers is helping to raise awareness of autism within mainstream schools in Wolverhampton.

The Autism Leadership Award, delivered by the City of Wolverhampton Council's Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Outreach Service in conjunction with the University of Wolverhampton, is aimed at SEND co-ordinators and enables local schools to have their own qualified Autism Leader. 

SEND co-ordinators achieving the award will have an advanced understanding of the condition, and the approaches and interventions which are most likely to support this unique group of learners. They will also be able to share their knowledge and expertise throughout their schools, meaning that staff as a whole become increasingly competent and confident in enabling pupils with autism to engage in learning and achieve their potential.

Meredith Teasdale, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Director of Education, said: "The Autism Leadership Award is an integral part of our wider SEND strategy and will give people working in mainstream schools a much broader knowledge and understanding of autism, which in turn will impact directly on classroom practices."

Dr Ada Adeghe, Head of Academic and Workforce Development at the University of Wolverhampton, said: "We are delighted to be working with the SEND Outreach Service to support the teachers on the Autism Leaders’ course to form a tight professional learning community where together they can improve their knowledge and understanding of the particular needs of children and young people with autism. 

“There is no doubt that we will see much improved professional support for them as a result of teachers’ engagement with this programme."

To date, staff from 20 mainstream schools are working towards their qualifications, focusing on key themes including communication and interaction and social and emotional needs, and Dr Eve Griffiths, coordinator of the Outreach Service, has said the course will run again in the next academic year, with enrolment beginning this June. To find out more, please visit Wolverhampton Information Network - Wolverhampton Outreach Service or email egriffiths@pennfields.com

Tamsin Davis, Headteacher at St Andrew’s Church of England Primary School, said: "We have noticed an increase in the number of children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, are in the process of being diagnosed or at the very least show some traits of it, in recent years. Currently, we rely heavily on the excellent outreach support that is available to us in Wolverhampton, but whilst we value this support we also recognise that the capacity to fully meet the needs of these learners cannot come from this support alone.

"As a school we acknowledged that there was a need for us to be better informed, even qualified, to meet the needs of our autistic learners, and the Autism Leader Award is the perfect way to fill this gap."

St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School Deputy Headteacher Julie Humphries added: "It is essential that we are able to identify and meet these needs of and provide the most effective support to the young people with autism and their families. 

“The Autism Leadership Award will no doubt lead to improved practice through a deeper understanding and result in improved experiences for our most vulnerable pupils, and we thank the council for seeing this as a priority for our city."

Coordinator Dr Griffiths said: “I would like to thank everyone within the council who have pulled together to bring the Autism Leaders’ Award to fruition, and everyone who has given up their time to plan and deliver content. It’s exciting to have colleagues from different parts of the council working together in this way.”

Wolverhampton is working to become an Autism Friendly City, by becoming a place where people with autism feel safe, understood and supported, have the same opportunities as anyone else, can live the life they choose, receive personalised support when they need it, enjoy meaningful activities and play an active part in their community.

To find out more about autism, please visit the National Autistic Society website. For details of local help and support services, visit the Wolverhampton Information Network.