Whole School Case Study – Building Capacity

Post Primary Mainstream School - This intervention was led by two Specialist Teachers for Autism over a period of 16 months. The intervention was based on a strategic model which aimed to build upon encouraging a culture of autism, incorporating it into school development planning.

While individual pupils were not directly supported as part of this type of intervention, a pilot group of pupils from across the key stages were identified to help facilitate the effects and outcomes of the whole school intervention.

The Autism Education Trust (AET) has developed a set of competencies (Autism Competency Framework (ACF), 2012) to describe the knowledge, understanding and skills that staff working in schools and other educational settings require to work effectively with pupils with autism.  The ACF provides a clear structure against which staff can reflect upon and evaluate their practice.  It aims to provide a source of guidance to help the school access and develop capacity within their workforce, with the overall aim of improving outcomes for pupils with autism. This framework aims at looking at the school’s professional competency from a reflective perspective and highlights areas for further development.  The competencies are divided into 4 main topic areas:

  1. The individual pupil (14 competencies focused on how to understand and address their strengths and needs)
  2. Building relationships (15 competencies focused on relationships with staff; parents/carers and peers)
  3. Curriculum and learning (16 competencies focused on adjustments to the way in which activities are presented, selection of priorities and modifications to the curriculum)
  4. Enabling environments (12 competencies focused on how to create good learning environments for pupils on the autism spectrum)

How is each competency rated?

For each competency, the user can evaluate the extent to which this competency is developed using the following ratings:

* Not yet developed – Work will be done to consider how to develop practice in this area

* Developing – Work has started on this area of practice/competency

* Established – The staff member can provide evidence that this competency is well established in every day practice.

*A priority rating of High/Moderate, and Low was also assigned to each skill competency.

The results of this audit identified target areas which were highlighted as part of a whole school support plan. This plan was then reviewed both midway and at the end of intervention. The targets ranged from enhancing knowledge and experience of autism through training, to facilitating best practice in curriculum development. A three- year matrix plan was also developed to identify longer term goals specific to facilitating good practice in autism.

Developing Partnerships in school

  • A core team of teachers and senior managers was established to ensure information was disseminated across faculty areas. This group met monthly and was made up of smaller working groups whose focus areas included Individual Education Planning (IEP), curriculum development and professional and parent training.
  • Multi-Disciplinary meetings were held once per term to inform Education Authority agencies of progress in intervention. This forum enabled collaboration to find solutions for pupils who were currently on the school roll but not attending.
  • Paired observations of pupils from the pilot group were completed with school staff and Specialist Teachers to share findings and to provide recommendations to build on inclusive classroom practice.

Supportive Environments/Flexibility in the classroom

  • A ‘model autism friendly classroom’ was set up to provide examples of differentiated work and teaching and learning strategies which appeal to the thinking and learning style of pupils with autism.
  • A ‘quiet zone’ was established to help pupils to manage their sensory processing needs and to become independent in emotional regulation.
  • The development of a post primary social skills group sought to enhance communication and interaction with peers and to provide a fun aspect to socialization.
  • An existing lunch time club was developed to include structured activities for pupils with autism with designated areas for chatting, playing games and redirection to what choices maybe.

Self- advocacy/self- reflection

  • Year 8 pupils were encouraged to set agreed targets with their form tutors and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) to facilitate them to have ownership of their learning. Pupils wrote targets in their own words and these were placed in their homework diaries for reference and reflection.
  • As a result of pilot group observations, staff were encouraged to identify ways to support pupils to become more independent in learning and in life skills such as, for example, asking for help and problem solving. The use of social scripts, help cards and social stories assisted were some of the strategies which helped to facilitate this.


  • An important part of the intervention was to facilitate inclusive practice for pupils with autism in the school who were placed within ‘The Base’. The Base was relocated to the main foyer area of the school where pupils could be seen and be more accessible to the daily school routines.
  • Faculty representatives shared best practice in teaching and learning strategies to encourage and enable pupils with autism to be integrated into the mainstream class but also to be inclusive in the learning environment.

Developing Partnerships at home

  • Parent training was delivered as part of practical sessions to allow parents to make resources to help with managing anxiety and emotional regulation.
  • A pilot group of pupils with autism was selected from across the key stages and parental consent was given for pupils to be observed and tracked as part of the intervention.
  • Parent played a key part in evaluating progress made in IEP planning and development.

Confidence and Attitude/Empowerment

  • The small working groups and direct involvement in planning training events empowered staff in becoming confident autism practitioners.
  • Staff developed their continuous professional development in autism practice by sharing best practice with their colleagues. Portfolios of work were shared to illustrate examples of curriculum differentiation for pupils with autism and tailored lesson outcomes.
  • Staff were given specific roles such as leading the post primary social skills groups, Individual Education Plan development and parent liaison.