Autism in Schools project extended

4th July 2023

  • A project aimed at improving support for autistic students in mainstream schools has been so successful that it has been extended.

    A total of 15 mainstream secondary schools in Sheffield are currently taking part in the project. Work has included the development of a training package for school staff (which will be rolled out to all schools in Sheffield) and in-school groups for autistic students.

    Our role at the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum has been to set up and run monthly parent groups in each school, and these will now continue until March 2024. The groups welcome parents of students with any kind of additional needs, not just autism; that includes those without a formal diagnosis.

    Using feedback gathered from parents, our project workers have been working with key staff to make improvements across the school for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

    Participating schools

    • Chaucer
    • Firth Park
    • UTC Sheffield City Centre
    • Yewlands
    • Parkwood Academy
    • Meadowhead

    Project worker: Sharon Court
    Telephone: 0300 321 4721 Extension 109

    • Springs Academy
    • Sheffield Park Academy
    • Westfield School
    • Notre Dame

    Project worker: Anna Marie Emmett
    Telephone: 0300 321 4721 ext 108

    • Oasis Don Valley
    • Outwood Academy
    • High Storrs
    • Newfield
    • Stocksbridge High School

    Project worker: Kathleen Green
    Telephone: 0300 321 4721 ext 110

    What has the project achieved so far?

    The parent groups have established a consistent route for parents to feed back to schools what is working well and what could be better. Using parent feedback, schools have improved information and communication, raised the profile of autism and SEND, adjusted policies and amended website content. We have also seen that parents really appreciate the chance to meet other parents, support each other and share experiences.

    Examples of impact

    • Increased numbers of pastoral staff and teaching assistants
    • Changes to facilities and resources to support students with SEND, including nurture facilities
    • Involvement of parents in reviewing a school’s new SEND policy
    • SEND newsletters and improvements to the SEND information on school websites
    • Increased parental knowledge of interventions and support available in school
    • Changes to the format of SEND review meetings in response to parents’ feedback
    • Increased understanding and use of reasonable adjustments in school
    • More signposting of parents to external agencies for support

     What do parents think?

    An interim evaluation carried out by an external reviewer found that “the project workers play an important role in providing a bridge for parent carers’ issues to be raised with the school in a way that is protective and supportive.” Parents said that they valued the peer support provided by the groups and the relationships they have been making with each other; they liked being able to meet and talk to other parents from the same school and knowing they are not alone. Group meetings have also provided parents with an opportunity to gain information that they would not have otherwise been given.

    “I think the group in school is really positive and also just really good for parents to feel they have peer support within the school, to work together with school to improve things and not feel like a lone voice.”

    “It really helps knowing we can express our thoughts and concerns and having a middle man so to speak to pass them on to school. Secondary school and communication with staff feels very detached from parents. You are bridging that gap.”

    “Thank you for telling me things, wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

    “You all know that everyone’s in the same boat and you’re not alone, it’s not just your child.”

    “When you know that other people behind closed doors are feeling the same as you do, you don’t put as much pressure on yourself, you forgive yourself a lot more.”