Autism qualification set to transform provision for ALN learners in further education

Dr Carmel Conn

Dr Carmel Conn, Associate Professor in Professional Learning

USW is delighted to have worked with the ColegauCymru to coordinate the delivery of an Additional Learning Needs (ALN) programme of study designed specifically for FE practitioners. 

The cohort of learners studied the PG Cert SEN/ALN (Autism) which is 60 credits of the full MA at USW. The qualification is unique in Wales and is delivered by leading Autism practitioner and researcher, Dr Carmel Conn. It is the only practice-based study of Autism in the region.

ColegauCymru ALN Transformation Lead for Further Education, Chris Denham said: “ASD, or Autism, is one of the most prevalent of ALN conditions. ColegauCymru has been keen to support and co-ordinate this approach because we recognise the importance of having staff in colleges who really understand the needs of young people with Autism. 

The achievements of those completing the programme represents an unprecedented injection of ASD expertise into our colleges which is likely to translate to an improvement in learner experience over the next few years as colleges take on their new duties under the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act (ALNET) Act.”

As ALN practitioners across Wales prepare for the implementation for the ALNET Act from September 2022, ColegauCymru is working closely with colleges to coordinate training and other preparatory work, as they commit to continuing to improve services before this date. The success of this partnership is thanks in part to the Covid19 pandemic - partly due to lockdown restrictions, the move to online provision encouraged take-up of the programme.

Associate Professor in Professional Learning and Course Leader for the MA SEN/ALN (Autism) at USW, Dr Carmel Conn added: “It was a real pleasure teaching this group of students, who are all experienced professionals working in the FE sector. They demonstrated a high level of commitment to their studies across the cohort and an ability to take on new perspectives on autism and educational support, including that of autistic people themselves. 

Student achievement on the course was excellent and many chose to carry out inquiry projects that consulted with young people about their priorities and experiences in college. The potential for impact from delivery of this programme is considerable and it is hoped that it will make a significant contribution to improved support practices used with autistic learners in the FE sector in Wales.”

ColegauCymru Chief Executive Iestyn Davies further added: “This has been a hugely successful partnership between further education colleges and the University of South Wales, with 50 ALN practitioners across all our member colleges represented, and a commitment from colleges we have not seen before, certainly in the field of additional learning needs. 

We are grateful to Welsh Government for the additional funding provided which made it possible for these individuals and imminently, a further 30, to take up this invaluable opportunity.”

 PG Cert SEN/ALN (Autism) - A Case Study

Julia Green is the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator for Coleg Sir Gar. Overseeing 75 members of staff across 7 campuses, she acts as liaison for all ALN learners, parents and guardians, which equates to approximately 20% of the college population.

Julia completed the PG Cert SEN/ALN (Autism) course at USW in May 2021. Here she talks of her experience. 

Julia Green resized.jpg“When I heard about the course from Chris Denham at ColegauCymru, I felt as the Head of the Learning Support Department it was essential for me to enrol. I have specialist knowledge and qualifications in dyslexia and dyspraxia but lacked confidence in relation to autism. I wanted to upskill, to enable me to offer a better learning experience for learners.

The course was delivered online. I am based in West Wales, so this was hugely beneficial as it mitigated the need to travel. However, I had initial concerns as I like the interaction of a classroom. My fears were removed though. The course was well structured, the materials were exceptional, and Dr Carmel Conn was very supportive. I enjoyed the online element more than I thought I initially would. 

Working full-time and studying for a professional doctorate as well, I had to be very strict with myself to set time aside to engage with the course work and materials. I enjoyed writing the assignments, reinforcing my knowledge, and putting my spin on my chosen topics of research.

On reflection, the programme has been immensely beneficial to my role and to the college. I spoke to senior management and said I wanted to upskill all the administrative and faculty staff on how best to support ALN learners, especially those with autism. As a result, we have scheduled two CPD days to achieve this objective. The event will be hosted as a collaboration between the Learning Support Coordinators, teaching and learning team and myself as ALNCo, who have experience of working with ALN learners, to share their wealth of knowledge and strategies as part of the event to all faculty teaching and support staff.

I am also part of a working party reviewing the college’s behavioural policy as it was felt that it was not conducive to ALN learners. We aim to launch the new, more person-centred policy next term, which will consider how autistic learners need to be supported. As an outcome of completing the autism course, I have identified the requirement of quiet spaces for ALN learners across our seven campuses.

Having already graduated from USW with a Level 7 and a MA in Leadership and Management, as well as a Level 7 in SEN (Specific Learning Difficulties) courses very early on in my career, USW has provided the pathway to the role I have now.

I am very proud of myself for staying motivated and completing with an overall distinction. I would highly recommend this course to fellow FE practitioners. As a level 7 course, it is demanding, but you get out what you put in. It is highly beneficial for a professional career in supporting learners with ALN and autism within further education.”