As increasing numbers of students with disability enrol in mainstream schools, South Australia is set to become a national leader in education for children with autism.
State Government funding will allow Flinders University to design and teach a specialised postgraduate course in teaching children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to 80 teachers from across the State, Catholic and independent school sectors.
The $700,000 funding, announced by SA Minister for Education and Child Development Dr Susan Close, follows a recent evaluation of capacity in mainstream schools that found access to professional learning and qualifications for leaders and teachers in the area of ASD was ad hoc and often limited to introductory levels
Flinders Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Stirling, said the award of the tender for the new course reflected the School of Education’s sustained commitment to quality education for all children, including those with a disability.
“The School has delivered many excellent programs in special education, and recently commenced an undergraduate program in which students specialise in special education and disability studies,” Professor Stirling said.
“The new course, enabled by State Government support, responds strongly to a community need and stands to make a very real difference in the lives of children with autism and to their families.”
Associate Professor Kerry Bissaker, with colleagues Dr Julie McMillan and Dr Dave Armstrong, will lead the project for the School of Education at Flinders.
“The increasing numbers of students with disability now enrolled in mainstream schools often presents additional challenges to leaders and teachers,” Associate Professor Bissaker said.
“In its call for submissions on the experience of students with a disability in mainstream schools, the Select Committee on Disability and Access to Education noted that teacher education and knowledge was an issue to be addressed.
“Thanks to the scholarships from the Minister’s office, our course will provide support for the development of more sophisticated knowledge and skills.”
The benefits will extend into the wider education system.
“The course will also act to build the leadership capacity of the leaders and teachers who enrol to mentor and support other teachers involved in the education of students with ASD, and to create ASD-friendly schools,” Associate Professor Bissaker said.
The course will also include a research component.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the School of Education, Autism SA and the three school sectors to work in collaboration and document the link between educators’ professional learning and outcomes for school communities and students,” Associate Professor Bissaker said.
“International research indicates high quality professional learning, specifically programs that include a tertiary qualification as an outcome, makes a difference on a number of levels for teachers and, most importantly, for students’ quality of life and learning while at school.”