Learning and the Curriculum

Boy writing

We believe in your child’s ability

At Thames Valley School we offer a full and rounded education to children with autism from ages 5 to 16. We have high expectations, which is why we ask our children to work hard, and encourage them always to do their best.

One thing our students comment on is that, unlike in the other schools they have attended, here they are never ‘forced’ to work. Instead, we like our children to enjoy their studies, and learn how they learn best. Our students make exceptional progress because we give them more control over the way they do their work, and always making it clear that we believe that they can do it, and that we expect them to complete their tasks. 

We deliver the National Curriculum at all key stages, and expect most of our pupils to attain at least the same levels as children in mainstream schools. By age 16, our pupils will take national qualifications, and our target is for most to gain five GCSEs at A to C, or equivalent BTEC qualifications or ASDAN life and work skill qualifications.

Learning at TVS

Our Vision and Purpose:

We are here to provide young people with access to the same high quality of education and academic opportunities that they would experience in mainstream settings. We seek to teach them what they need to know to make sense of, to interpret and ultimately to improve their world. This includes giving them access to powerful knowledge, cultural capital and rich learning experiences; we help them to encode this knowledge in their long-term memory and to practice using it both within and beyond the classroom.

What makes us different to a mainstream setting is that we provide all of this within a small, autism-friendly environment, using the NAS SPELL approach: Structure, Positivity, Empathy, Low Arousal and Links. Working together, staff and students at Thames Valley have created a powerful sense of community where young people feel safe, seen, heard, valued and respected. This supportive context, together with the learning journey they embark on, helps students to rebuild confidence, develop their self-esteem and to completely re-imagine their potential.

We help our pupils to understand their autism and develop strategies which they use to help them to overcome barriers to engagement and achievement. This includes helping them to manage their stress and anxiety, which in turn helps them to improve their behaviour and attitudes to learning. They learn about themselves, the world we live in and how they can shape this, both now and in the future.

Learning in small groups, supported by staff trained in understanding autism, over time, our pupils develop their emotional resilience and achieve their academic potential. We build on each child’s strengths and capitalise on their interests, so they develop motivation to learn, and believe in the importance of what they achieve.

The TVS Curriculum

Intent: what we teach

We design our curriculum to include the best of the National Curriculum, sequenced to give students the powerful knowledge and skills they need to succeed academically and socially. Subject specialists identify the threshold concepts which pupils need to understand in depth and achieve mastery; they then select the knowledge, including specialist vocabulary which needs to be explicitly taught.

Being able to read fluently is a key skill which is also essential to pupils’ ability to continue adding to their body of knowledge, so we place a strong emphasis on developing this throughout pupils’ primary and secondary education. All teachers have access to clear assessment data on each pupils’ ability, including their ability to read with comprehension and teachers use this to inform their teaching.

In addition to the best that the National Curriculum has to offer, we have a strong personal development curriculum to help prepare young people to be active and engaged citizens in modern Britain. Throughout their school day, they are supported to develop skills and attributes such as resilience, self-esteem, risk-management, team-working and critical thinking. Our STAR values (Safety, Thoughtfulness, Achievement and Resilience) are reinforced and celebrated by all staff, with weekly awards in assemblies and a termly reward system overseen by the Senior Leadership Team and the Student Council. Adventure Learning, Enterprise and the Duke of Edinburgh Award focus explicitly on increasing their self-esteem and personal effectiveness. They are supported to understand their own personal challenges and to explore the choices and options they have to overcome barriers.

Students receive independent careers advice and guidance and develop their employability skills through work experience and enterprise projects. We also ensure that they learn the life skills they will need to live healthy and happy adult lives, from personal budgeting to nutrition and wellbeing.

Implementation: how we teach

The class sizes at Thames Valley School are small: on average a class of six children will learn with one teacher and two learning mentors, and some children are supported individually.

In the Primary Department, the Class Teacher and team of Learning Mentors help to establish the classroom as a secure base in which they can learn. They also have their own outdoor space with a range of play equipment and access to indoor Soft Play. They develop a sense of being part of the whole school community through weekly Assemblies. There is a strong focus on helping them develop the basic building blocks of learning, including reading and mental maths. Science, Computing and PSHE are taught as discrete subjects. We carefully plan opportunities to support children to generalise and apply their learning, across subjects and into the wider community.

In the Secondary Department, we aim for students to benefit from a secondary model of education where they can be taught from Entry Level up to GCSE level 9 by subject specialists who bring both a passion for their subject and deep pedagogical knowledge and understanding. Students still have a consistent form tutor who meets with them daily and is responsible for their pastoral care and they are supported by skilled Learning Mentors throughout the school day. However, we recognise that some secondary-aged children continue to learn best when they take most lessons in their own classroom, which acts as a secure base so we continue to operate a more nurturing approach for those who need this. Our intention is to increase support and to tailor the learning context to make pupils feel sufficiently safe and confident to engage and progress, rather than to lessen our ambition for these young people to succeed.

We want our children to enjoy their studies, and to learn how they learn best. We have high expectations, which is why we ask our children to work hard, and encourage them always to do their best.

The Impact of learning at TVS

With our specialist support, most young people make or exceed expected levels of progress at the end of Key Stage 2 and then achieve comparable GCSE results to their mainstream peers (including many at grades 4-9).

We work closely with the young person, their family and local colleges to support an effective transition to further study and we are proud that 95% of our leavers are still in education and employment.

Our classes

The class sizes at Thames Valley School are small: on average a class of six children will learn with one teacher and two learning mentors, and some children are supported individually.

We’ve found that our children learn best when they take most lessons in their own classroom. For science, art and design, and food technology, your child will learn in our specialist classrooms where they have excellent facilities and can extend their knowledge through experimentation and creativity. PE may happen in the hall, the playground, the sports centre next door or in other community facilities.

Learning beyond Thames Valley School

Your child is gaining knowledge and skills that will take them on to further study and adult life. We therefore give all our pupils plenty of opportunities to extend their learning beyond our classrooms.

We make regular visits to places of educational interest such as galleries, museums, and farms and we use the sports centre next to the school every week.

MyProgress® at Thames Valley School

At Thames Valley School we use MyProgress®, The National Autistic Society’s programme for working with children with autism. For your child, MyProgress® means that from the day we meet them to the day they leave our school, their learning will be completely tailored to their needs. With MyProgress®, we will assess your child regularly, plan the approaches and strategies that will work best for them, deliver them and monitor your child’s progress. We are systematic and thorough, and above all, we work with you and your child to create the best education for them as an individual.


"It’s good here because they don’t ‘force’ you to do things you find hard. They help you."


"Everything is personalised. In one lesson, four children will be doing four activities."
Primary teacher