Here at the Northern Counties School, we have developed a specialist autistic school for children on the autistic spectrum with additional learning and communication difficulties, who require a very specialist, highly structured educational and therapeutic provision within a Total Communication approach. All our autistic services are staffed by a highly skilled team of teachers, therapists and learning support workers who provide an exceptionally integrated approach to education.

We recognize that all children with ASD experience three main areas of difficulty known as ‘The Triad of Impairments’. Our ASD curriculum and the way we plan and teach our pupils has the triad at its centre. We provide a flexible teaching environment with pupils following individual programmes which are based on our detailed knowledge of each child. We use a variety of innovative approaches too, such as Intensive Interaction, Jabadao, Lego Therapy, SCERTS, Occupational Rehab, How does your Engine Run, whilst at the same time having access to a creative, interest-based broad, balanced and relevant curriculum, which fully meets their needs. An emphasis on functional skills, communication and our integrated approach to planning, delivery and assessment is at the heart of our curriculum.

Collaboration and Consultation: Working together in Partnership To Provide ASD Services

In the Hillcrest Centre, the teachers, therapists and support staff ensure that they become partners in supporting the work with each child, by developing strong working relationships. Working in collaboration with members of the Multi-disciplinary team ensures that a child centred holistic approach is core to practice. The diagram below demonstrates this approach.

Our children are unlikely to be able to cope in other ASD services and will often have been placed in an ASD Specific Provision. They may be susceptible to anxiety if routines cannot be maintained and will require an approach that recognizes and responds to their behavior on an individual basis. Pupils may demonstrate challenging behavior associated with their autism. These pupils will need support to function in group situations. They are typically provided with a small class group and a minimum of one-to-one support.

We offer:

  • Access to a suitable challenging, creative and innovative curriculum, modified to meet the individual needs of children within a Total Communication approach

We ensure that all our children have full access to an inclusive functional curriculum that provides stimulating programmes that are challenging whilst at the same time ensuring that they are relevant and appropriately differentiated so it can meet individual needs. We use a range of communication methods, including speech, sign, symbols, PECS, low and high-tech aids such as Voice Output Communication Aids. Behaviour management programmes are differentiated to each individual child and are monitored and adapted as children develop, learn and change. As a whole school, we use NAPPI (Non-Abusive Psychological and Physical Intervention) positive management strategies to develop individual comprehensive behavior management plans. In conjunction with our behavior management plans, some classes use ‘How does your engine run?’ and sensory diets to help develop self-regulation, increase learning behaviours, as well as developing social awareness. Sensory diets consist of individual programmes of specific sensory activities which cater to each individual’s needs.

Small teaching groups, with a very high level of staff support.

  • We offer small groups, with a very experienced team of staff support. All children within the Hillcrest Centre require at least one-to-one support. Due to the specific learning style of our children, lessons may have a very small amount of direct whole-class teaching, having a higher number of individually planned activities which are of short duration, but are highly intensive and concentrate on ensuring that each child has high-quality, one-to-one teaching, positive participation and achievement within the lesson.
  • Consideration is given to each child’s ability to access lessons, acknowledging that this depends on factors such as emotional state, type of activity or location of activity. Whilst our children are encouraged to participate in all lessons, they may follow very individual timetables to ensure that their emotional regulation is at its optimum state for learning. We value the development of children’s self-esteem, confidence, awareness of themselves and others, ability to integrate into the school and local community and academic success.

Planning and service delivery based upon a thorough knowledge of Autism.

  • During our lessons, we use each child’s strengths and interests to build new skills. We use transactional supports and each lesson has a high level of structure in relation to lesson content, teaching strategies, environment and organization. Some children work for a reward, which could be music, or favoured object based such as using the computer. These rewards are planned on an individual basis.
  • The Triad of Impairment is an important part of lesson planning and school staff ensure that there is a balance between curriculum, social interaction, development of communication, meeting each child’s sensory needs and flexibility of thought. We plan for generalisation of skills in relation to different staff, environments and resources. Development of each child’ social understanding is planned for and each class will aim to sit together to complete their morning routine. Tolerance of shared and group activities will always be aimed for and where children are taught in individual work spaces, integration with peers will be monitored and strategies for inclusion adapted as appropriate.
  • Each class also has a timetabled lesson in the local community — examples include buying ingredients for Food Technology, to teach social skills, use of public transport, money skills, road safety and self-regulation. Change is taught and planned for to develop a child’s flexibility of thought. Positive changes are planned and introduced as surprises, using visual supports for individuals.

A Creative Teaching Environment

  • To maximize concentration levels, some of our children require a low arousal approach. Classrooms have work stations for individuals, as the structured environment provides stability and reassurance. Daily routines and timetables are structured to lower each child’s anxiety, however flexibility of thought is developed through our use of visual cues, display, symbols and photographs. The Hillcrest Centre is stimulating and provides a very creative environment. Pupils’ success and our lively curriculum is celebrated through wall displays.

Specialist TherapyCBP_4264

  • The importance of an integrated approach and close collaboration with our speech and language therapists, physiotherapist and occupational therapists are essential for each individual’s holistic development. Each pupil is able to access individualised programmes offered that are designed to support early communication and language development. Approaches offered include Intensive Interaction, Jabadao, Lego Therapy, and SCERTS. We use technology such as iPads to promote communication in the community and also have expertise in specialist communication aids, such as LAMP which have been designed especially for children with ASD.

Occupational Therapy

Our occupational therapists provide sensory processing programmes to support attention levels and help children to regulate their responses to sensory information. We find innovative ways for children to access the curriculum using technology. We provide specialist equipment and furniture, such as seating to encourage good posture, increase levels of alertness and thus engage better with learning. We also use the vocational rehab programme and the 5 P’s model to increase independence and life skills.


ll of our children have access to facilities, such as our on-site hydrotherapy pool, swimming pool and activities such as rebound therapy. The physiotherapy team is available to support children’s gross motor development and plan programmes to complement our P.E. curriculum. Opportunities for communication are a key feature of these activities and we support social communication through games, turn taking and awareness of our friends in the pool, or on the trampoline.

Opportunities for off-site learning

  • Opportunities for off-site learning include topic-related educational visits, health and fitness programmes, social skills and learning opportunities within the community.
  • Children are taught a range of leisure skills, such as hiking, which not only supports behavior, but also promotes lifelong pursuits.
  • Theatre visits are built into the curriculum too, and we attend the Autism Specific Pantomime at Newcastle Theatre Royal every Christmas


  • ASDAN, Unit Awards, Duke of Edinburgh Award programmes to recognize the progress our young people make in all areas.

Access to and input from our teachers of the deaf and the visually impaired.

  • Some of our children have a sensory loss as well as a diagnosis of ASD. Our school has a number of specialist teachers who work into the ASD service in order to ensure the curriculum is accessible to all children, taking into account additional sensory needs.

Respite Care and short break service

  • This includes tea-time visits, overnight stays, weekends and a two week summer holiday programme.

Partnership working with parents / carers

  • By promoting consistency in approach between home and school, we experience greater success in managing behavior and reducing anxiety. We welcome family members to observe our practice and share approaches that support consistency into the home.

Access to a 24 hour curriculum (for some children).

  • Flexible residential provision is made to enable children who cannot commute daily due to the distance between the school and their homes, or for whom educational support outside the school day is required. The residential unit provides a supportive environment where the children can continue to learn through increased opportunities to develop their independence, personal and social skills, build self-esteem, value others and promote positive attitudes.

On site clinics

  • Medical and psychological services are available, including ENT, CAMHS, our school Educational Psychologist and regional psychological and psychiatric teams who work with us in a multi-disciplinary approach.

An Autistic School Which Receives Accreditation from The National Autistic Society

  • As a school, we are accredited by the National Autistic Society, which provides an autism-specific quality assurance programme for organisations throughout the UK and across the world.  The accreditation award provides a unified standard of excellence and a systematic framework for continuous self-examination and development.

Serivces we provide for children on the autistic spectrum

Places to children who require a bespoke package to meet their needs. Children and young people placed within the Hillcrest Centre access a functional curriculum which is based around the following key curriculum areas:

  • Communication and Literacy Skills
  • Mathematics and Functional Numeracy Skills
  • Science
  • Creative Development
  • Life Skills and Independence
  • Social Awareness
  • Enterprise Skills
  • Enrichment Opportunities
  • Diversity
  • British Values

The curriculum is topic based to provide a vehicle through which children can develop skills in a range of contexts to generalize their skills. Communication skills are taught explicitly and reinforced throughout the curriculum and we strive to support children to develop skills in expressing their needs effectively. We recognise that many behaviours can be a child’s way of communicating their needs and wants, or their feelings and frustrations. We try to respond to these while addressing the child’s ability to communicate effectively.

Each child’s timetable is individualised, highly structured and includes significant levels of physical activities to address their sensory processing needs. We have high expectations of behaviour, helping children to develop, where appropriate, strategies to self-regulate their behaviour using a range of resources and techniques. We are able to support children in accessing the curriculum, achieving accreditation and promoting maximum independence and inclusion into school and the community.

Children and young people who are considered eligible for the Northern Counties School are referred by their Local Authority, who would accept responsibility for the education package. Find out more about our admission procedure and associated assessments by clicking here.