Centre provides inspiring education for children with autism

At Benfield School, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, every child has an opportunity to succeed. That includes the 14 pupils who attend the Cherrywood Centre, which provides specialist provision for young people diagnosed with autism, on the same site.

The centre was the recent winner of the category for ‘inspirational education provision – secondary and over 16’ at the 2016 Autism Professionals Awards in recognition of its work in supporting children and young people with social communication challenges and enabling them, as far as possible, to access a mainstream curriculum.

The centre opened three years ago with just six students, but has since grown and now has nine members of staff working intensively with pupils. Every pupil is regarded as an equal member of Benfield School, which prides itself on its inclusive ethos and community.

Pupils at the centre study the ASDAN PSHE Short Course in Year 9 and ASDAN’s Personal and Social Development course at Entry Level 2 throughout Years 10 and 11, as well as New Horizons.

“Our pupils are all on the autistic spectrum but their needs vary greatly,” Janice March, Cherrywood Centre Manager, explained. “Some are very bright and are able to access the mainstream curriculum, with support from staff. Some of the younger students have more significant learning difficulties but as they go through school they acquire greater independence and may spend more time in mainstream lessons.”

Every pupil at the Cherrywood Centre has an individual learning programme, and their curriculum is regularly reviewed and changed as and when needed. Younger pupils are likely to spend more time in the centre, but as their confidence and sense of security in the school environment grows they spend more time being educated with their peers in the mainstream education. In addition, students have access to speech and language therapy, rebound therapy and mindfulness lessons.

The centre is furnished and decorated to be conducive to the needs of children with autism. For example, reflective surfaces and visual distractions are minimised and the school ‘beep’ has been turned off so it doesn’t affect students who are noise sensitive.

ASDAN programmes of study form an important part of the curriculum in the centre, supporting both staff and students to build skills and confidence, and to aid independent learning.

“The ASDAN courses give a real structure to the students’ learning, and their flexibility allows the staff to adapt them to the students’ needs,” Ms March added. “The courses are practical rather than examination-based, which is exactly what our students need. There is no pressure on students to take and pass tests. However, their progress and attainment needs to be recognised and ASDAN qualifications do exactly that and give credit for what the students can do. They have something to show for their hard work and effort, which is very important in preparing them for adult life beyond school. We want our students to have the appropriate social skills and a clear understanding of right and wrong. We want to develop resilient young people who can engage positively with others. The specific learning and individualised programmes we are able to offer allow our students to develop an understanding of their own behaviour and that of others.”

Other finalists in the awards included ASDAN centre Progress Care and Education, Lancashire, nominated for the autism accreditation excellence award and Adele Devine from Portesbery School, an ASDAN centre in Surrey. Adele was nominated for the Axcis award for achievement by an individual education professional.

Author: Dorothy Lepkowska, Journalist and former ASDAN media liaison consultant

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