20 May 2021

The Autistic Staff School Project (ASSP) hosted a successful webinar on the 27 April and focused on two key principles - facilitating diversity and inclusion across the school community and supporting the rights of school staff members to equality of access and inclusion in the workplace.

Interest was high from the start and the webinar was sold out weeks in advance. A total of 145 participants joined from across the UK and Ireland, and from as far afield as the USA and Australia. Approximately half of the attendees were autistic.

The attendees had diverse roles, and included early years practitioners, university professors, teaching assistants, headteachers, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, mentors, researchers, third sector workers, commissioners and more.

Feedback from the attendees clearly highlighted the quality and perception of the contributions, with comments like, "Powerful, moving, thought provoking (and with humour!)".  There was also an overwhelmingly positive response to the event overall.

Professor Francesca Happé introduced four well-received pre-recorded presentations, starting with the project lead and senior lecturer in special education at UEL, Dr Rebecca Wood, who spoke on the findings on autistic school staff and Covid-19.  Pete Wharmby spoke passionately about the value of intense interests before Claire O’Neill shared her thoughts on the strengths autistic people can bring to school leadership. Venessa Bobb, co-founder of A2ndVoice, completed the presentations with a powerful talk from her perspective as a black parent of autistic young people.

This was followed by a live panel of autistic teachers, all of whom are also chapter authors for the forthcoming book drawn from the project, which is due to be published in 2022. The panellists - Madge Woollard, Elkie Kammer, Jade Pitchford-Waters and Alan Morrison - offered brilliant insights on themes such as advice on revealing a diagnosis in the workplace, valuing 'insider' experiences, managing change and teacher training.

Engagement and discussions continued on Twitter, following live tweeting from Dr Laura Crane. This resulted in impressive potential impressions of 26K and a reach of 150K, plus comments such as this which encapsulated the aim of the project:

"It was inspirational hearing from other autistic teachers leading on inclusion issues and using their experience and expertise to educate other members of their school communities,"

A webinar attendee said.

The project is funded by the John and Lorna Wing Foundation and the webinar was sponsored by Scottish Autism. For more information and to catch up on the event,  read more about the team and their research.  You can also watch thepresentation and follow the project by using the hashtag #AutSchoolStaff or follow the project on Twitter @AutSchoolStaff.

Image credit -  Sara Peeters

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