Our 'Quality of Life' framework

An introduction to Quality of Life

“With the right education and support, children on the Autism Spectrum can achieve great things and their families can lead full and happy lives.”

Mark Lever, 2016, CEO National Autistic Society.

Welcome to this section of our website, which is devoted to our work on ‘Quality of Life’ (QoL). We hope that it will provide you with an overview of how we have developed and implemented our QoL framework at SPS and how this works to support our students and their families. Other sections will trace the development of our QoL work over time; will describe the relevance of a QoL approach to working with young people with autism and their families; and will take you to a variety of resources on QoL from researchers in this country and abroad.

Our  ‘QoL’ framework has been cited within each of our recent ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted reports in September 2018 (Residential Care), June 2019 (Residential Care) and July 2019 (Education). It was also a major factor in us achieving our ‘Advanced’ level Autism Accreditation award.

For those interested in using the QoL framework in another school of college, please have a look at the QoL network section on our website.

  • What is Quality of Life?

    Let’s start by trying to provide a definition of Quality of Life which will help make sense of what we are doing and why…..

    So, the first issue to deal with is the fact that most researchers shy away from a definition for QoL because it is notoriously hard to define This is not only due to its personalised, multi-faceted and dynamic nature but also because most people will have an intuitive understanding of what constitutes a good quality of life.

    A prominent researcher in the field, Robert Schalock has developed a universal and widely accepted QoL model, which is based on three broad dimensions – Independence, Social Participation and Well-being. Each of these can be divided into more specific domains such as personal development, interpersonal relationships, social inclusion, emotional well-being etc.

    This model holds particular appeal for our school because of the special emphasis we give to developing our autistic students’ attitudes, skills and knowledge in Communication, Self-Management, Independence and Achievement- four domains that fit into Schalock’s model well.

    Rather than trying to define QoL then, the table below which is based on Schalock’s work provides a helpful way to think about it.

    You will be able to find out more about this model and its component parts in other sections of this website but for now, this table will provide some preliminary insight into QoL and its multi-dimensional nature.

    Later, we will explore ways to measure the QoL of young people with autism using questionnaires that incorporate many of the above dimensions and that have been specifically designed for this population and for their families. This leads us to another very important principle that underpins our work.

  • Family Quality of Life

    At Swalcliffe Park, we are also committed to enriching the QoL of the families of our students. This is because we see our students as being embedded within their families and that together these are “interconnected parts of a system that cannot be understood in isolation from one another.” This family systems approach to working with young people with autism is well supported (Gardiner and Iarocci, 2015). Also, it endorses the National Autistic Society’s position that parents and young people need to be full participants in decision making and that we should be working together to support autistic young people to live the lives they want as they move towards adulthood.

    Introducing the concept of student QoL into our work and extending this to their families are now the foundations that underpin everything that we do and, as a school, we are proud to justify and rationalise our approach. As schools, we are accountable to many audiences but primarily to our students and their families. This is why we have developed our QoL framework and other aspects of school policy and practice with them in mind. This would appear to be supported by the Autism Education Trust’s view that “All individuals with autism are entitled to a good education and a good quality of life.”

  • Views from an OFSTED inspection

    We are also accountable to external bodies such as Ofsted and it is important that we can feel confident about the work we are doing.

    With this in mind, we have taken some extracts from our most recent OFSTED report. The following statements are from the key findings of our residential OFSTED inspection in September 2018:

    • Evidence based research has been used to create a whole school approach to meeting the needs of children and young people and to constantly develop practice.
    • The emphasis placed on improving the quality of life experienced by children, and their families, produces significant improvements for all.
    • Consultation with children and their families results in tangible changes in provision and practice.
    • As one parent said, the school has given children aspirations when they did not used to think they were good at anything before.
    • Evidence-based research has informed how the school is organised and the approach taken to working with children who have autistic spectrum disorders. The school is now contributing to international research in the field and senior staff have presented the school’s pioneering work at conferences in the UK and abroad.
  • Draft school inspection handbook

    Recently, we have been encouraged by Ofsted’s draft School Inspection Framework, published as a consultation document in January 2019. We believe this provides a real opportunity for schools to review their curriculum offer in terms of content, flexibility and ambition with a view to showing how it builds the knowledge, skills and attitudes to prepare students for adult life.

    Extracts from the framework are provided here to illustrate how it appears to support our work.

    Page 15 “Ofsted will judge schools that take radically different approaches to the curriculum fairly. They will assess a school’s curriculum favourably when leaders have built a curriculum with appropriate coverage, content, structure and sequencing and implemented it effectively.”

    Page 40 “The school’s curriculum is rooted in the solid consensus of the school’s leaders about the knowledge and skills that pupils need to take advantage of the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences in later life. In this way it can powerfully address social disadvantage.”

    Page 41 “It is clear what end points the curriculum is building, and what pupils will need to be able to know and do at these points.”

    At Swalcliffe Park, we have refined the academic and vocational strands of our curriculum and incorporated additional attitudes, skills and knowledge, which address issues directly linked to QoL. This can then be linked directly to school processes and practises for student target setting, assessment, reporting and EHCP review. Just as importantly, it demonstrates how we are supporting families on a day to day basis. More information on this can be found in the next section QoL@SPS.

    To conclude, we are proud to be able to justify and rationalise our QoL approach. We are encouraged by researchers and other organisations such as the AET, NAS and even Ofsted whose thinking appears to support our own. Finally, we have created the short animation below to give a brief and light-hearted insight into the main domains of QoL, based on Shalocks model (see above). We hope you enjoy it and please feel free to use this with any of your staff, governors and parents.

No students leave the school without entering employment, further training or education. (Ofsted)