All teachers, as part of their initial teacher training and induction period, must demonstrate that they can differentiate their teaching to meet the needs of pupils, including those with special educational needs or disabilities, and know how to seek advice from those with specialist knowledge, such as the school's SEN co-ordinator.
Once qualified, all teachers are expected to discuss their own development needs in performance management reviews, and to address development priorities. This could include strengthening knowledge and understanding of SEN, including autism. Where schools have identified a need to strengthen knowledge and understanding of SEN or disabilities, as a school priority, this should be addressed through their school improvement and development plans.
All schools receive a school development grant that they are able to use to support improvements in any aspect of teaching and learning. This includes professional development. A wide variety of courses are available covering SEN and disabilities, ranging from awareness raising through to in-depth studies leading to specific qualifications. It is, however, a matter for individual teachers and their schools to determine their own particular training and development needs. Local authorities may retain a proportion of this grant, under certain conditions, to provide specific training and development of SEN.
In 2002, we published jointly with the Department of Health 'Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD): Good Practice Guidance', which offered a series of pointers to good practice, including a number on in-service training. The guidance advised that
"all those who plan or provide for children with ASD should have some knowledge and understanding of autism".
In October 2007, the Department plans to formally launch its inclusion development programme which will help enhance teacher confidence in key areas of SEN. The programme will focus initially on speech, language and communication needs and dyslexia, since the ability to communicate is fundamental to learning and progression for all children with SEN and disabilities. It is envisaged that it will then address the needs of learners with ASD and behavioural, emotion and social difficulty, with other types of needs covered over time.
The Department is also working with voluntary sector organisations and others to support the establishment of an Autism Trust, which will aim to improve teachers' specialist skills in working with children with ASD. We will announce further details later this year.