Meet Sarah Broadhurst, the Director of Autism Education Trust, a not-for-profit organisation established and supported by the Department of Education. AET promotes and supports partnerships throughout the education system to improve educational access, experience, and outcomes for autistic children and young people.
The Autism Education Trust does this by sharing knowledge, understanding, and developing frameworks, training materials, and resources for education professionals. AET’s primary aim is to develop the workforce’s skills, embed a positive attitude towards neurodiversity, and support system leaders to establish a positive culture change.
AET’s professional development program is structured around three education phases: Early Years, Schools, and Post 16. Its 360 degrees approach offers education professionals the knowledge and tools to understand and support autistic children and young people in all three phases.
Leading the Charge
As the Director of the Autism Education Trust, Sarah brings together all her knowledge and experience of good practice in autism and strategic leadership into one role. Sarah is passionate about equality, inclusion, and working collaboratively to improve outcomes for young autistic people, and her role as the Director of AET provides her the perfect opportunity to apply that passion and have a tangible impact.
After completing her University Degree, Sarah began her career as a support worker in residential homes for people with learning disabilities and autism. At this point of her career, she realised that she wanted to spend the rest of her career working to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities and autism. Slowly Sarah worked up the ranks from support worker to Senior Leadership Team, undertaking various management qualifications and a master’s degree along the way.
“I wanted to increase the impact I could have, so I moved into the world of research and lecturing at the University of Kent, completing my Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and co-authoring my first book on autism.”- Sarah remembered.
Later she moved to Oxfordshire, where she worked for the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University. During her time at IPC, Sarah also led national government projects to improve the lives of vulnerable people and minority groups, including autistic people.
Autism Education Trust is a partnership organisation; its strength lies in its partnerships with over 100 organisations that are very passionate about autism education. AET’s partners include a wide range of organisations, from the Department for Education to local authorities, charities, universities, schools, and advisory groups like the AET Autistic Young Experts Panel. AET shares best practices, advice, and access to information and the latest research data between this network of partners.
Thanks to this fantastic network of reputable partners, dedicated professionals, and autistic individuals, AET is in a unique position. It has the necessary tools and expertise to design an exceptional professional development program. The curriculum offered by AET is the only one developed in collaboration with people with autism, parents of children with autism, academics, and education professionals.
The Greatest Achievement
Sarah feels her greatest accomplishment is being a successful strategic leader while also home-schooling her son. “It was never my intention to do both, but like many parents of neurodivergent children, you are often left with no choice,”- she explained. “Of course, I don’t do it alone, and I have an amazing partner who, to quote Sheryl Sandberg, shares the kitchen table.”
However, great accomplishments can only be achieved with excellent skills. Sarah’s secret to success has been her ability to listen and hear people, see things through their lenses, and mobilise action. Whether it is external stakeholders, her team, her partner, or her son, Sarah listens, reflects, and then mobilises.
Success for Sarah is transforming perceptions of neurodiversity and fostering the empowerment and value of neurodivergent people. She does this by leading a neurodivergent team and empowering them to be high performing, ensuring they experience well-being rather than burnout.
Turning Challenges into Advantages
Like most other organisations, the pandemic bought several challenges to AET. Initially, Sarah was concerned about the health and safety of her colleagues and AET’s partners, so the organisation quickly moved to a work-from-home-based set-up, which Sarah and her team found safe, effective, and convenient.
Businesswise, AET managed to turn the challenges of the pandemic into advantages. Its drive to explore virtual training options and opportunities accelerated, and AET discovered several new ways to connect to its partners and audiences. Virtual training delivery became the norm, and AET started developing its On Demand online hub, which will soon enable it to offer online training to a wider audience.
Looking at the Future
To create a world where all autistic children and young people experience a positive education that supports their well-being, AET aims to expand its international reach using its latest digital platform.
Autism is a difference, not a deficit. It is a different way of thinking and seeing the world. Autistic children learn differently, and we need to teach them the way they learn. This is what good autism practice is about.