How Does Transitioning to a Mainstream ‘Satellite’ Class Affect the Learning, Social and Emotional Functioning of Special School Pupils on the Autism Spectrum?g of Special School Pupils on the Autism Spectrum?

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
A. Croydon1, A. Remington2, L. Kenny2, H. White1 and E. Pellicano2, (1)Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), UCL Institute of Education, UCL Institute of Education, University College London, London, United Kingdom, (2)Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), UCL Institute of Education, University College London, London, United Kingdom

In line with international efforts to promote inclusive education, current legislation in England places a duty on local authorities to ensure that a child or young person with a special educational need or disability (SEND), including autism, is educated within a mainstream setting. The often-significant learning and behavioural needs of autistic children and young people, however, can seem to make it particularly challenging to include these children effectively within regular, mainstream schools and to obtain appropriate educational provision compared with children with other SEN. One solution may be the ‘satellite’ model of education where special school pupils with autism are relocated to mainstream schools but remain in separate (‘satellite’) classes, receiving the tailored curriculum and specialist teaching of the originating school, with access to the social and learning opportunities of a mainstream placement. There is, however, remarkably little research on the impact of transition to such satellite classes.


This study therefore sought to understand the impact of transitioning from an autism-specific special school to two satellite classrooms – one in a mainstream primary and another in a mainstream secondary school on the learning, social and emotional functioning of a group of young autistic people with additional intellectual disabilities and varying degrees of communicative competence.


The current study focussed on one example of the satellite model, recently implemented by the local education authority in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which houses a diverse ethnic population, with high levels of child poverty and special educational needs, and where many families do not have English as a home language. Questionnaires and interviews with autistic students (n = 10; 1 girl), their parents and teachers examined the academic, social, emotional and behavioural development of transitioning students and were completed twice within the space of one year – immediately before and 12 months after transition.


Overall, the young people, their parents and their teachers were extremely positive about their satellite placements and identified encouraging outcomes in terms of students’ learning, behaviour and social awareness. There was considerable agreement between teachers, parents and children that fewer behavioural issues in the satellite classes were a key benefit of the transition, enabling children and young people to ‘raise their game’ in terms of their learning and their own behaviour.

Although the satellite students and their families did not appear to be fully integrated into the life of host mainstream schools, families considered inclusion in the satellite classes as a positive outcome in itself, and some perceived a greater sense of social inclusion and acceptance for their children.


This research offers unique insight into the experience of transitioning from special school to satellite classrooms in a mainstream setting, from the viewpoint of the young people, their parents and teachers. The findings highlight the benefits and also the challenges of the process and of the satellite class model itself – a potentially promising model for educating children and young people in England.