Our provision is unique in the ITT landscape, as all our trainees complete the PGCE with QTS degree by studying remotely – training in a school local to them, anywhere in the world – and so ensuring that we develop strong working relationships quickly is vital for our approach.
When a trainee with SEND enrols with us, in addition to disclosing any disabilities in their application, they are contacted by a member of our pastoral team and their tutor to meet virtually and discuss how we can support them as they complete the course. Undertaking a one or two-year (part-time) PGCE with QTS is a significant decision at the best of times, but when a trainee knows that some aspects may not come as easily to them as others, we want to put in support at the earliest opportunity so they can thrive.
For trainees with autism, this means tailoring our support to the individual learner and being the bridge between them and course requirements. In the past, we have conducted meetings with Headteachers, school mentors and support staff to ensure all parties are very clear about the timetabling needs of trainees. Sometimes this has involved arranging PPA or study time at home, or changing timetables so that lessons which are less likely to have a sensory overload (think guided reading compared to a science experiment) are earlier in the day.
We think carefully about which University staff will need to interact with these trainees, keeping it to a minimum; ensuring they are staff who have a good understanding of autism and the potential need for routines, forewarning and clarity of instructions at all times. When new adults unavoidably need to be introduced (e.g. staff leading workshops for the whole cohort), we have organised pre-meetings with the trainee, new member of staff and tutor in advance. This is an opportunity for trainees to watch the new staff member interact in a conversation with their tutor and learn their habits, ask questions or contribute if they feel comfortable doing so.
Our tutorials are delivered online weekly, and so making accommodations here have included allowing trainees with autism to watch recorded versions and following up by contributing to discussion via email afterwards, or attending with their camera off and being forewarned if there will be extra attendees in a session. One-to-one sessions may be appropriate to discuss upcoming events such as assignments, or communicating via email rather than face-to-face may be preferable to trainees with autism.
Getting to know all trainees well is as crucial as it would be with children in your class. Knowing their likes and dislikes, extended support network and the outside agencies involved also enables providers to make a clear path towards the end goal of the PGCE. For example, providing written materials in specific colours, fonts or layouts can be helpful, as can protecting a trainee from any extraneous information that is not relevant to them at that precise moment. Looking carefully at the paperwork you provide trainees to evaluate whether it has potentially confusing messages or is ‘information overload’ is good practice to assist all trainees.
Safeguarding principles apply as they do when working with all trainees, but in our experience the potential need to act may be increased, and so ensuring those working with trainees with autism are well versed in your institution’s protocols is crucial. Similarly, emotional support when receiving exam results or meeting other course milestones needs to be considered. Looking at a trainee’s results in advance of release helps our tutors adapt their response and be ready to offer support as and when it is needed.
These suggestions have come from our work with trainees with autism; the most crucial point to remember is this worked because we asked them what they needed from the outset, and tailored our response to their unique requirements in the way we do for all our trainees.
Katie Jump is an Associate Lecturer/Senior University Lead Mentor on the PGCE (QTS) Primary route for the National Institute of Teaching and Education (NITE).