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There is No How-To Guide for Autism Education

April 23, 2021

Learn about UK-based specialist autism school, The Cavendish School, and its important mission.

There is No How-To Guide for Autism Education

Education is all about listening to those around you. From the start of our journey to opening The Cavendish School, the world’s first International Baccalaureate (IB) special autism school, we have been working extremely hard to ensure we are engaging in relevant conversations with the autism community and actively talking to all of our stakeholders, from prospective students and their parents to teachers and educational researchers. From these discussions, we have been able to create a space, as well as develop a curriculum and teaching methodology that will support each individual student, building on his/her skills and allowing him/her to achieve, make progress, experience success,and thrive.  

Within the current context, Cambridgeshire County Council has to place a significant number of children and young people with autism in independent or out-of-county provision. So, to say we are proud to be Cambridgeshire’s first state to maintain special free school for young people with autism is an understatement! We believe it is important for us, as educators, to provide the opportunity of an enriched and fulfilling education for all young people within their local community.

Throughout the development of The Cavendish School, removing barriers to education has been our sole focus. At the heart of our new school will be relationships and the important ways in which they support the growth of each child. These relationships include those between each student and the staff he/she works with, other students in the school, and his/her family. Right from the outset, we will be involving the whole of the family in the child’s time at the school. There is no “how-to” guide when it comes to supporting a young person with autism; therefore, we will hold constructive conversations with an open and enquiring approach, collaborating with families, teachers, and teaching assistants to provide cohesive support and find out how we can best tailor each student’s education to meet their needs as they grow. 

These important conversations also translate into all of our school planning, including development of the curriculum model through to the hiring of staff; we are currently recruiting for a headteacher, and students and their parents will form two distinct panels of the recruitment process.

We’re extremely proud we will be the world’s first special autism IB World School and with this, we will develop in our students 10 human attributes that go beyond academic success. These will teach our students to be: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. Known as the IB learner profile, we believe these characteristics should be developed in all students regardless of neurodiverse or neuro-typical development. IB programs enable students to become globally aware citizens, make connections between their learning in different subjects, and develop the skills and confidence to succeed. The IB focuses on a broad and balanced curriculum and all frameworks of learning pay close attention to the development of the whole child, both at school and beyond.

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Implementing our curriculum strategy

Our curriculum model also allows for a wide range of activities, including forest school, Lego therapy, and life skills—all supporting the idea of what it means to be inclusive. Here at The Cavendish School, we will celebrate diversity; we are accepting, respecting, and recognising neurological and developmental differences. We are committed to removing barriers to inclusion for young people with autism within and beyond the school community. Through active conversations and an individualized approach for each child, The Cavendish School will identify students’ needs and look for the very best ways we can support them. We believe through our curriculum, our students will be able to achieve a range of accredited qualifications, which represent excellent progress for that individual and allow them to move on after successfully reaching their chosen destination.

Following the IB’s world-renowned programs allows us to forge strong connections with Impington Village College (IVC), our co-located mainstream school, and Impington International College (its Sixth Form), which will provide excellent opportunities for our students through the use of facilities, support staff, and bespoke extra-curricular activities. IVC has around 40 young people with an autism diagnosis and we have worked with these students and their parents to gather their views about the facilities, curriculum, and additional support, all of which we will implement at The Cavendish School. 

Testimonial from a parent

One parent whose son moved from a special school in Year seven to study at IVC, commented: “The transition [for Harvey] was very challenging but worked so well due to the empathy, professionalism, and excellent strategies put into place by the team at IVC. My son grew in confidence and self-esteem with the support given. He was truly understood and all his achievements were celebrated. He went from a child who was anxious and didn’t have trust in school, to a young man who was able to give a presentation about autism to a group of 400 other students and who advocated for other students with additional needs. The communication was fantastic and we felt we were working together with the team and were always consulted, welcomed, and included in his education.”

Our vision

The type of young people I envisage benefiting from The Cavendish School are those students who are academically and cognitively able to access a mainstream curriculum but who, through the structures and systems set out, aren’t able to reach their potential. Often, the size, structure of the day, and the mainstream school environment, alongside the needs of the individual, mean they don’t have access to a curriculum they are academically able to achieve with. The Cavendish School will provide the right environment for every student who walks through our doors.

Our aim

Our aim for The Cavendish School is to provide a safe, nurturing space, alongside inclusive and comprehensive support, so all of our students can flourish. Through listening to the needs of parents, knowing what is currently available, engaging with the community, and initiating those often difficult conversations that will be key in driving our school forward, we want to build a sustainable educational offering and provide a unique environment that will be life changing for young people with autism.

This article was featured in Issue 118 – Reframing Education in the New Normal

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