We are pleased to share this short article from fellow parent-carer Carla Scaife, who is also the Programme Delivery Lead for Autism in Schools and the Partnership for Inclusion of Neurodiversity in Schools (PINS) in Greater Manchester. Here, she talks about the role that parents and carers play in the development and success of the Autism in Schools project.

Initially born from the Transforming Care agenda and a day in a room where parents, carers, children and young people got together to discuss how there was “too many missed opportunities” when looking at young people who were admitted to hospital for mental ill health and where learning showed us that looking at better supporting autistic young people in mainstream education led to better outcomes for young people long term, the Autism in Schools project launched in Greater Manchester in September 2021. Initially working with Rochdale, Manchester, Oldham and Wigan, the project has been co-produced from the beginning.

It’s been an honour to work as the Greater Manchester project lead! As a director of my local parent carer forum I know how important it is to involve families and young people at the beginning. I believe that every day we are presented with a chance to make a choice, and the choice is to work in coproduction even if it means doing things differently.

Lived experience is strongly valued in the AiS: parent-carer representatives are joint project leads in all localities and, in each of the schools we work with, there is also a parent-carer group and children & young people’s voice groups. The learning from the initial project has been shared year-on-year and the leads from the initial localities have been vital in the success and growth of the project to date. We now have a project running in all ten of the Greater Manchester localities, with a robust co-produced training offer – which Manchester colleagues have been crucial in developing – and a wide range of support available to school settings based upon the presenting need of families and young people.

I’m incredibly proud of the work done within the Autism in Schools project and even more thrilled that this year we went out to a vote with the community and the project will now relaunch as the “Greater Manchester Neurodiversity in Education Programme”!

An evaluation of our progress to date will be published soon but that initial findings confirm that suspensions are down in all schools that have taken part and there has been no exclusions of autistic young people or those with speech language and communication needs in participating schools which shows the impact of what we can achieve by working together.

Greater Manchester Autism in Schools Community of Practice session in February 2023

The photo shows Carla (standing, middle) co-facilitating at the Autism in Schools community of practice meeting in February 2023.

This video shows Carla co-presenting together with Julie Hicklin (Manchester City Council’s SEND Lead) at a Council for Disabled Children conference in October 2023.