Glasgow Caledonian University’s Student Well-Being Service has become the very first in the UK to achieve Autism Accreditation from National Autistic Society.

Autism Accreditation, administered by National Autistic Society, is UK’s only autism-specific quality assurance programme of support and development for those providing services to autistic people. Achieving accreditation is a way for organisations to show they are committed to understanding autism and offer excellent support to autistic people.

Glasgow Caledonian University’s Student Well-Being Service aims to assist a wide range of students who may require additional support throughout their time at university. Students may seek this support for a number of reasons, for example, feeling under stress, suffering from homesickness, mental health issues, or having difficulties with their course due to a disability.

The service can offer practical, counselling, mental health and wellbeing support to help students be successful in their studies. It does this in a variety of ways such as one to one appointments, group sessions and workshops.

The Disability Team is a department within the Student Well-Being Service that provides advice, information and services to disabled students and applicants. This includes students with long term medical conditions, sensory impairment, mental health difficulties, physical impairment, specific learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia) and students on the autism spectrum.

To achieve accreditation, the University’s Student Well-Being Service worked closely with the charity to improve the way it supports autistic students. The Student Well-Being Service has undertaken a variety of projects and activities to raise autism awareness among students and provided training to staff to help improve the way they work with autistic people. Since registering with Autism Accreditation in March 2017 this work has intensified and focussed upon the development of specific projects/activities in order to improve outcomes for autistic students.

Examples of projects undertaken and adaptations made include:

  • A photography exhibition by autistic students, the use of social media and campaigns around World Autism Awareness Week, the use of short videos in staff training sessions that feature students talking about their experiences at GCU and the development of student videos for the GCU website.
  • A Summer Transitions Programme that supports new students in making the transition to higher education from college or school.
  • The adaptation, and appropriate utilisation, of the NAS Socialeyes programme to make it relevant and meaningful for university students.
  • The development of a pilot Employment Project where students are supported to engage in work experience placements.
  • The use of the School Visits programme to raise awareness at local Secondary Schools about what courses are available, what student life might be like.
  • Work undertaken to ensure that the 2019 Fresher’s Fayre was more autism friendly. In particular the introduction of a quiet hour during fayre and the provision of quiet rooms/spaces for students to access is of particular note.
  • Clear systems have been developed for the consistent recording and sharing of important information relating to the needs of individual students.
  • Training and CPD opportunities provided for members of the team has ensured that there is an up to date and robust knowledge of autism. 

What was the process the team went through to achieve accreditation?

In order to achieve accredited status GCU helped Autism Accreditation to develop an autism specific self-auditing toolkit based upon the work undertaken by other types of provision but specifically adapted to consider appropriate reasonable adjustments within a university setting.

These autism specific standards were then used to facilitate a self-evaluation audit of current practice in order to recognise embedded strengths and to highlight potential areas for development.

Quality improvement visits were provided by an Autism Accreditation Adviser to guide staff through the process, to provide feedback in relation to their findings and to advise in terms of reasonable best practice solutions.

GCU Student Well-Being Service were then underwent a three day assessment process. This considered specific criteria and looked in detail at working practices in order to recognise strengths and highlight next steps for development. The assessment included practice observations, discussions and document review.

Principal Pamela Gillies CBE FRSE, Principal and Vice Chancellor of GCU, said:

"Glasgow Caledonian University is delighted that its Student Wellbeing Service has become the first in the UK to be awarded National Autistic Society Accreditation. The accreditation recognises our pioneering support for our autistic students, much of which is already informing the work of other universities across the UK and Europe. The University's student well-being team is, like all our staff, fully committed to ensuring that GCU provides a welcoming and nurturing environment for all our students, regardless of their background or the personal challenges they may face. I am deeply impressed by the team's dedication to this task.”

Christine Flintoft-Smith, Head of Autism Accreditation at National Autistic Society, said:

"We’re delighted to accredit the Glasgow Caledonian University’s learning support team. University staff have worked incredibly hard to adapt and improve their practice – and this is already making a difference to the autistic students they work with.

“We hope that their achievement will encourage other Universities and colleges to work with us and improve their own autism practice.”

For more information about the charity’s Autism Accreditation programme, please visit www.autism.org.uk/accreditation.