A school improvement we can all be proud of

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I have been teaching since 1988 – I have worked for 24 years in six different schools. And I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Teaching is an endlessly rewarding and stimulating career.

Many people know when you have worked in a particular field for a while, old ideas come round again recycled as new ones and promoted by a new generation of politicians or managers.

This is true in education – fashions come and go and new ideas seem strangely familiar. A new curriculum; teaching phonics; apprenticeships; free schools; vocational qualifications – experienced teachers know today’s wizard wheeze may well have been yesterday’s too.

However, I am genuinely excited and encouraged by one new development. Some years ago, we were asked by Hampshire County Council to develop a ‘resourced provision’ for children with autistic spectrum disorders. This facility is for autistic children who can benefit from learning in a mainstream school with support.

As you probably know, autism leads to difficulties with social communication – autistic youngsters can speak well enough, but they struggle to understand all the other ways in which we communicate with each other (body language, facial expression and so on). This can make school a nightmare – autistic children can end up as naughty children, or bullied children, or both.

We opened our building (which we call The Croft) in 2010 and we now have six students. They are thriving. They take part in lots of ordinary lessons and activities but they also have time away from the hurly-burly of school life and a chance to learn and practise life skills.

I can remember children I knew as a young teacher who were clearly autistic. I had no idea what autism was and did not understand why they behaved as they did. I remember some who were terribly difficult and terribly sad. In this respect, it is so much better to be alive in 2012 than 1988 – society has changed for the better.

There are ‘resourced provisions’ in schools, not only for autism but also for hearing and visual impairment, physical disability and so on. I am proud of this change in our schools.