This document reports the key findings of the Erasmus+ KA2 Strategic Partnership Autism Spectrum Disorder – Empowering and Supporting Teachers (ASD-EAST) (Grant 2018-1-UK01-KA201-047872). ASD-EAST was established to begin to address an identified shortfall in teacher knowledge and training regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and focused on developing appropriate training to support teachers to effectively include learners with ASD in education within Central/Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
The project was carried out between September 2018 and August 2020. Its specific focus was on the development of training for specialist primary age range teachers (in both special school and mainstream/inclusive settings). The materials were developed and tested in three counties: Croatia, the Republic of North Macedonia (hereafter referred to as North Macedonia) and Poland.
The project was evaluated using a combined process and outcome methodology (Royce et al., 2016), utilising both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis. Evaluation activity in the project was undertaken by the partners within the evaluation workstream:
- Centre for Education and Research, University of Northampton, UK (project coordinator)
- Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia (workstream lead)
- Pedagogical University of Krakow, Poland
- Autism Macedonia Blue Firefly, North Macedonia.
Initial mapping activity (O1) was undertaken to identify good practice in teacher education in ASD and to identify teachers’ knowledge confidence and training needs. Teachers in Croatia, North Macedonia and Poland were surveyed (n = 294) and six focus groups were carried out during autumn/winter 2018-19. Key findings were:
- Teachers held widely differing and sometimes incorrect opinions regarding ASD, with mainstream teachers being most likely to have incorrect beliefs or pessimistic
- Teachers reported a very low level of previous training in – or confidence in using – many common ‘autism-friendly’ teaching methods.
- Despite this, the majority of these methods were in use within the three countries. This suggests that the majority of teachers are using such methods without training and without feeling confident in using them.
- There was high agreement (almost 90%) that teachers would benefit from training, and a particular desire was expressed for practical strategies.
All of this supported and validated the need for the project to be undertaken.
EVALUATION OF ASD TRAINING CURRICULUM AND MATERIALS
Findings from the mapping phase informed the development of the ASD-EAST Curriculum (O2) and Training Materials (O3). Twelve hours of training was developed, and the materials were piloted with teachers (n = 259) in Croatia, North Macedonia and Poland in autumn/winter 2019-20. Pretraining, post-training and follow-up questionnaires were administered, and follow up interviews were undertaken. These identified that:
- There was high satisfaction with the trainings with 92.5% of respondents stating that their expectations were fulfilled
- There was high satisfaction with the content, in terms of the balance between theory and practice, examples andrelevance
- Over 90% of participants reported learning methods that they could use straight away
- Extremely high satisfaction was reported regarding the delivery of the training and the trainers
- Over 95% of participants would recommend the training to others, and it was also felt that the training would be relevant for a wider range of participants
These are extremely positive findings which identify the importance and value of the project.
FURTHER EVALUATION ACTIVITY
Feedback from the project’s four virtual multiplier events, which were attended by over 1,300 delegates, was also extremely positive. It was felt by 98% of delegates who completed evaluations (n = 344) that the materials would provide teachers with increased knowledge and useful strategies. The same percentage felt that the materials could be used across other EU countries.
The project was also evaluated with regard to its reach and effectiveness of dissemination activity. The workshops have had an indirect impact across 88 schools, 3,867 teachers and 38,861 children. The multiplier events had excellent reach, with over 1,300 delegates from over 20 countries. Similar effective reach was achieved by the project website. This was accessed by more than 5,000 visitors from 81 countries. The project’s e-newsletter, produced six times during the project lifespan, was subscribed to by 1,837 individuals; and further audiences were reached via YouTube and Twitter. Eleven physical and virtual academic conference presentations were given during the project lifetime: more would have occurred but for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Overall this demonstrates the commitment of the project team to engage with the stakeholder audiences identified within the proposal – specialist teachers, other education professionals, policy/decision-makers, autism/disability community and the wider public – and evidences the success of its strategies. Again, these are positive findings that show how the project team has worked to carry out the project in line with the proposal.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The ASD-EAST project was extremely successful.
It developed a high-quality curriculum and materials based on teachers’ identified training needs.
It delivered training to 259 specialist teachers in Croatia, North Macedonia and Poland: this is more than double the number of teachers for which we initially planned.
Teachers have been overwhelmingly positive regarding the curriculum and materials: participation in ASD-EAST training has improved their knowledge and confidence, and they identify the value of such training for teachers, other professionals and parents alike.
As a result of undertaking this project we recommend that:
- Appropriate Initial Training, Continuing Professional Development and support for teachers should be provided across Europe
- It should be ensured that accurate understanding of autism and individualisation of learning and teaching are central to training provided
- Training should be designed to ensure a holistic approach, and to provide teachers with the skills to work effectively with families and other professionals.
These recommendations are developed further within the ASD-EAST Policy Recommendations (O6).