Pupils attending the centre
The GTC is a Specialist Resource Provision or SRP for children on the autistic spectrum. We provide targeted support to enable children to make progress, achieve their identified outcomes and continue to access the mainstream curriculum while being provided with specialist intervention programmes. The GTC has a discrete teaching space and staff work exclusively in the centre to enable access to small group teaching alongside access to mainstream classes in St James’s.
Every family is part of the St James’s School community. All families are encouraged to take an active part in the life of the school.
We cater for children from Reception to Year 6. Some children join us at the start of their school journey while others join from other local primary school. The Centre is overseen by Melanie Cunningham with the support of two full time teachers, three full time teaching assistants and a part time administrator. Children also have access to specialist teachers for PE, music, art and swimming.
We invest in continued professional development for all our staff and all staff have received the necessary training to enable them to support and teach children with autism effectively. We also work closely with a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist and a play therapist to develop a holistic therapeutic approach.
We use the philosophies of Social Thinking, Zones of Regulation, SCERTS and the Early Bird Programme to support our children and their families. We also refer to Autism Education Trust Frameworks.
We deliver differentiated lessons based on the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum and National Curriculum, ensuring each child’s learning is appropriate for them and has suitable challenge within it.
Children learn in small groups or with an adult 1:1.
We believe that our children deserve an education which enables their natural creativity and curiosity to flourish. Our children acquire skills and knowledge through a series of Imaginative Learning Project. Along with English and mathematics, the children learn Religion, PSHE, science, history, geography, physical education, swimming, design and technology, art and music. This ensures the children learn skills across the breadth of the curriculum.
We develop and build on individual strengths and enable opportunities for inclusion within mainstream classes. Each child is also part of a class in the mainstream school.
As part of the school community, our children have opportunities for inclusion within the School. Inclusion is organised on an individualised basis and will be different for each child, based on their strengths, needs and individual interests.
We also work on developing each child’s speech, language and communication, social communication and interaction, emotional regulation, sensory regulation, play and interaction and independence through targets taken from long term outcomes in each child’s Educational Health and Care Plan.
Interventions and strategies
The GTC implements strategies proven to be effective for children with autism. These strategies aim to assist in developing emotional wellbeing, communication, social understanding, sensory needs, independence and academic progress.
All staff receive training to ensure that a consistent approach is used throughout the GTC. We have always sought to find the most effective and consistent methods to enable students to communicate and manage behaviours attributed to their autism. We are not wedded to any singular point of view but adopt an eclectic approach adopting those methods that work best for individuals or groups of children. We are flexible and enthusiastic in exploring a range of evidence-based approaches and interventions to help our children learn.
Some of the Key Strategies and Interventions we use are:
The TEACCH approach is based on structured teaching and organisation that shapes the environment in a way that children with autism can understand. Many of the principles of this approach are used in the GTC. There are 3 main components:
The physical structure
In the GTC, we implement the physical structure throughout, providing a low arousal environment which minimises visual, sensory and auditory distractions.
The visual schedules
Our children are taught how to use a visual timetable, which allows them to understand what will happen throughout the day. This helps them to move between one activity and another, to manage change and understand what is expected of the child ‘now’ and ‘next’. .
The teaching method
This does not describe the curriculum content but the way in which we present learning opportunities.
We ensure that learning is appropriate and presented in a motivating way that will help the children to understand what is expected of them. This greatly increases the child’s independent functioning and will help them in life-long skills. Pupils learn to work independently through the use of a structured system in which work is presented in a systematic and organised way that the child is able to understand. This system can be used for any type of task: learning activities, living skills or playtimes.
Strategies to build social competencies are explicitly taught. With the Social Thinking Methodology, we use evidence-based strategies to improve social competencies, including self-regulation; social-emotional learning; executive functioning; perspective taking and social problem solving.
We use a common, non-judgemental language and teach the children about ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ behaviours. The children also learn about behaviours which may make other feels ‘comfortable’ and ‘uncomfortable’.
Zones of Regulation and emotional regulation
Self-regulation is something everyone continually works on whether or not we are cognisant of it. We all encounter circumstances that lead to us becoming dysregulated. We teach our children to recognise when they are becoming less regulated and enable them to respond positively to manage their feelings and get ourselves to a healthy place.
Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations
These strategies aid the development of social thinking and support emotional well-being.
A social story accurately describes a situation, skill, or concept. A social story can be used to provide social understanding to a situation and is not used specifically as a tool to manage behaviour. We use the language of Social Thinking when writing social stories.
A comic strip conversation incorporates the use of simple drawings. It places an emphasis on what people say, do, and think. It uses symbols and colour to clarify communication and improve comprehension. As such it is a useful tool to not only help us explain social situations but also helps us to understand how the children may be thinking and where we may need to address a misunderstanding.
SCERTS – Social Communication Emotional Regulation Transaction Supports
The SCERTS framework and methodology informs our practice, meaning that we have a means by which we can chart the progress of our children with their social communication, emotional regulation and, specifically, help them to understand the world around them.
Using SCERTS, we are able to plan, monitor and record the progress of children in a number of domains. Our assessment system draws heavily from SCERTS principles as do our coaching and mentoring systems when evaluating the effectiveness and impact of teaching students with autism.
SCERTS encourages research and investigation so that our children, however unique in their individual presentation, have their needs met, free of the constraints of a singular or pre-existing methodology.
These are directed by our occupational therapist. They are aimed at giving children access to the additional sensory stimulation that their bodies require. There are a variety of ways in which we do this. The children do sensory circuits integrated into their play, they may use particular equipment in the classroom to help them to focus and feel calm. In responding to the sensory demands that the children have we also promote emotional and physical well-being. We have a sensory room to provide individuals with the opportunity to stimulate, develop or balance their sensory systems or reload (relax). The occupational therapist plays a fundamental role in sensory difficulties and advises on programmes.
Low Arousal Environment
The GTC is a low distraction environment with a combination of individual workstations and small group rooms. In order to reduce stimulation from visual input the centre is neutral in colour. The environment is calm and ordered to reduce anxiety and aid concentration.
We teach from a multi-sensory curriculum focused on the five core sensory systems (vision, taste, smell, auditory and tactility) to provide pupils with positive sensory experiences to learn how to use and adapt their senses. Pupils are warned of possible sensory stimuli they may experience e.g.: loud crowded places such as the lunch hall and visitors to the centre.