Just Enough Support

This year, as we have devised our Post-19 curriculum, we have challenged ourselves to evaluate the notion of ‘what is education?’ and more specifically the ideas around a ‘formal education’.  Too often we are told that a formal education must be qualifications, and more recently entry level qualifications and above. But where does that leave those students who aren’t ready to start an entry qualification, and in some cases may never be?  Aren’t they entitled to a so called ‘formal education?’

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that ‘education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school’. This statement rings true to those of us who are teaching students in their final years of education covered by their Education, Health and Care Plan. Whatever we teach in these final years needs to have a clear and specific purpose for their adult lives.  We do not have the luxury of spending time generalising skills to new environments.  We need to teach students’ in their local communities and build up their lives beyond the classroom.  Whatever we teach needs to ‘remain’ after their statutory rights to education have ended.

In our service we have looked to challenge the notion of ‘formal education’, by focusing on a person-centred approach and placing the student at the heart of the conversation, facilitating their choices, aspirations and needs.  Our students all follow their ‘ideal weeks’ and engage in a time table full of variety and activities unique to them. This ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ approach is why the outcomes our students achieve are so meaningful to the individual, their families and carers. Our individualised curriculums are drawn specifically from the outcomes within the Education, Health and Care Plans, under the strands of Literacy; Numeracy; Community Participation; Health & Wellbeing, Vocational & Employment and Independent Living. Our aim is to ensure our students live lives they have chosen to live with the right guidance and support from those who know them best.

Teamed with our commitment to a person-centred approach, is the concept of ‘just enough support’. This is used within the care sector to ensure a package offers just the right support for those who need extra help to live as independently as possible. The basis of this is establishing what a person can do for themselves, and the parts which need support from another adult or carer.  BeyondAutism services have embraced this idea, and it can be seen throughout our teaching practices.  Our use of gestural or physical prompting over vocal prompts, ensures our students are guided to help themselves, without being told or instructed to do so. Our prompting is systematically faded, to ensure we can withdraw the support we give swiftly, appropriately and in a considered manner. Ultimately, we are empowering our students to not be dependent on having their needs met by the adults who care for them and giving them their voice, choice and control.

This year for World Autism Awareness Week, BeyondAutism students and families have much to celebrate. In BeyondAutism Post-19, we have seen significant life-changing outcomes, and these have been achieved through the determination, perseverance and resilience of our students, their families and our teaching staff. We have seen students move into their own homes, sustain meaningful work placements and access the community for the first time without the need to have family members support. Some of our students are learning to cook their own lunch after buying their items from the local store and have visited a bowling alley or theatre for the first time.  This is on top of students learning to tolerate many things we take for granted, such as tooth brushing and waiting in line.

As we come into the final term of the academic year, we will continue to challenge the ideas of what formal education means for those learners who don’t fit the traditional pathways, and embrace the opportunities to provide just enough support, empowering our students to have choice and control, while receiving the right support when they need it.