Teacher with students 

The new school year is about to begin, which means that thousands of students are going to start their training to become teachers.  

More than 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum, and more than 70 per cent go to mainstream schools. So every teacher will have autistic students in their classes at some point in their careers. It’s vital that they understand autism and know how to support all the children in their class.

Thanks to concerted campaigning over the past few years, including our Every Teacher campaign with Ambitious about Autism, all those trainees should be learning about the needs of autistic children and young people as part of their course. A firm understanding of autism in classrooms will transform the lives and prospects of future generations of children and young people on the autism spectrum.

What do teachers learn in their training?

Initial Teacher Training (ITT) covers a very wide variety of skills that teachers need, like how to plan lessons and what the curriculum says. In response to campaigning and to make sure that teachers learn the right skills, the Government published a teacher training framework in 2016 which says that training providers should cover how to support children with special educational needs, especially autistic children.

All organisations that provide teacher training should make sure new teachers have the knowledge and skills they need to help autistic pupils overcome the challenges they face at school.

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society said, "It’s vital that every teacher has a good understanding of autism and how to teach autistic students.

“Thanks to concerted campaigning from our charity, Ambitious about Autism and thousands of autistic people and their families, new teachers should be learning about autism in their initial teacher training. This will make a huge difference to the prospects of countless children and young people on the autism spectrum, and to teachers and schools too.

"More than 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum. So every teacher will have autistic students in their classes at some point in their careers and they deserve to be given the understanding and skills they need to teach autistic children effectively.

"Teachers don’t need to be experts in autism. A fundamental knowledge of what it means to be autistic and the often simple adjustments that can help could transform the experience of autistic pupils at school. It could be something as small as taking extra time to prepare autistic children for any changes to the daily school routine or having a quiet place to retreat to if it all gets too much.

"We will be writing to the Government to urge them to monitor how well the training framework is being applied and make sure it's working for autistic students. It's also important that existing teachers understand autism and have the opportunity to participate in training and access resources from organisations like ours and the Autism Education Trust.

“Every autistic child deserves to be given the chance to reach their full potential."

Get involved – encourage existing teachers to sign up to training

We will continue campaigning for greater understanding of autism in every school and the introduction of a national autism and education strategy to make sure no autistic child is held back from reaching their potential.

You can encourage existing teachers to find out more about what they need to know by signing up to MyWorld or by downloading and sending this template letter to schools in your area.

Siobhan's story

SiobhanSiobhan has worked in education for 18 years, currently as a teacher at a school specialising in epilepsy and autism.

She said: "Almost straight after my initial training I started teaching an autistic student, but I hadn’t been given the knowledge of autism or tools of the trade I needed to understand and help him learn. No doubt many other colleagues feel the same. To this day I still reflect upon that student with a great sense of guilt, convinced that I did him a disservice through ignorance.

"When my own son and then my daughter were diagnosed, I had a crash course in autism. I’ve learnt a huge amount and wish I could share this knowledge with the teacher I was eighteen years ago.

"This is why I have tried to take up the mantle of sharing good autism practice within mainstream schools. Teachers are professionals who work in complex and often challenging circumstances every day. They need and deserve to be equipped with the tools and knowledge to help every child in their class to reach their maximum potential.

"The breakthrough has arrived, finally trainee teachers are learning about autism. I sincerely hope that schools and colleges that train teachers will take this seriously, and make good quality autism training available. I still consider myself to have a long way to go on my autism journey. As any teacher will verify, a day when we don’t learn anything is a day wasted."

What about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The framework of core content for initial teacher training is only for new teachers in England. In Wales, we are campaigning for new mandatory training for professionals through our Your Act campaign. In Scotland, we are planning a new campaign on education. There will be more information on our website about this shortly. In Northern Ireland, our Broken Promises report called for better training and awareness of autism for a range of professionals.

Further information