Meet the Autism and CCN Team

The Autism and Complex Communication Needs team have a range of specialist qualifications within the team, ranging from Post Graduate Certificate in Autism, through to a Master’s Degree in Autism. They support and contribute to the development of creative and innovative projects informed by local, regional, national and international research.

Gemma Halstead - Specialist Teacher and Autism/ CCN Team Lead

Gemma is a Team Lead for the Autism/CNN team along with Stephen Fessey. Gemma holds a Master of Education in Autism from the University of Birmingham.

Gemma has worked with children and young people on the autism spectrum for 18 years, beginning with a part-time role as a family support worker in the voluntary sector. Gemma has taught and held senior leadership roles in specialist provision (both day special schools and 52 weeks residential special), enhanced resource provision and mainstream schools, with children and young people aged 2-19. 

Gemma is passionate about supporting schools to meet the needs of learners on the autism spectrum through training and advice. She enjoys the variety of her current role because she enjoys working with children and young people of a variety of ages and abilities, as well as their families and settings. She also enjoys training and supporting schools to develop their provision for learners on the autism spectrum. 

Gemma is trained in a variety of evidence-based approaches including TEACCH, PECS, Signalong, Intensive Interaction, the Humunculi approach and Lego-Based Therapy. 

Stephen Fessey - Specialist Teacher and Autism/ CCN Team Lead

Stephen is a Specialist Autism Teacher who supports schools, young people and parents with a diagnosis of Autism (or Asperger’s) or similar traits. Stephen has worked for the team since 2015. Stephen has Masters level Educational Qualifications and a range of teaching and management experience across mainstream and special schools.

What is your day to day work like?

No two days are ever the same. I can be meeting parents and children as part of a diagnostic assessment for autism in the morning and then running a specialised intervention in the afternoon around social and communication skills for a group of children. Other days I might be delivering to a conference or working with leadership in schools toward Whole School improvement.

What’s the most interesting part of your job?

It’s always the young people. Working them is such a privilege and being able to help them understand and explore their own diagnosis or areas of need is profoundly rewarding. It can be a very challenging thing to be told that you have a diagnosis of autism but with the right support it can be genuinely useful and can help young people understand how they might see and experience aspects of the world differently.

Why is autism an important cause to you, personally or professionally?

We’re learning more and more about autism and how it presents in the individual. No two people with autism are the same although there are shared general traits across the spectrum. I’ve learnt so much about how the brain learns and interacts with the world from my experience working with children who process and experience the world differently. It’s important that we help young people identify and understand their strengths and help them begin to support their own areas of need.

If you could change one thing about education to make it a better for autistic young people, what would that be?

We’re becoming more accepting of the diagnosis generally and that’s a good thing. I think schools and people generally are more aware of the label and what it might mean for an individual. However, as teachers we still rely heavily on body language, facial expressions and other subtle cues to transmit intentions. I’d like to see more deliberate and obvious transition rituals in classes and more visual reinforcers used across all stages of education to help young people who aren’t as adept at picking up those more subtle social cues and intentions. It’s all about amplifying and making concrete tasks and expectations.

Nick Appleton - Specialist Teacher

Nick has worked in education since 1991, in both special schools, specialist settings and mainstream. Having worked in a 52 week residential school in Basingstoke for 2 years he returned to College and added a PGCE in secondary education to his BA(Hons) in Theology.

From 1994 to 1998 he worked in the same residential school where he started as a TA, ending up as Deputy Principal before leaving to manage a post 16 residential setting outside Glastonbury.

In 2000 he joined the autism department at Sunfield (another 52 week residential setting) before joining the Autism Team in 2002. Nick has been with the Autism Team, with a short break to teach in a mainstream middle school in Redditch and a day special school in Worcester.

Nick fulfils a range of activities with the team including assessments and advice to schools, commissioned assessments for the Local Authority (EHCP, PSF, mediation and tribunals) and diagnostic assessments for the Umbrella team.

He has an additional Post Graduate qualification in Autism from Birmingham University.

The most satisfying work is that with parents and ensuring positive working relations between them and the schools. The most frustrating part is not having a magic wand.

Emma Bone - Specialist Teacher

Emma qualified as a teacher in 2002 at the University of Central England. She worked for 15 years in Birmingham, both in mainstream and special schools. During her time in a large Birmingham special school she held many roles, including phase leader, assessment co-ordinator and mentor for NQTs.

She has worked extensively with pupils with a range of complex communication needs, as well as those on the autism spectrum. She has training in and experience of using a diverse range of strategies, including TEACCH, PECS and Intensive Interaction.

A teacher retention bursary enabled enhanced CPD in many areas relating to teaching those for whom a differentiated curriculum is required, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and social skills. She worked in the development of a maths curriculum aimed at those with significant learning difficulties. More recently she gained a Level 4 qualification in Coaching and Mentoring. She worked with independent experts in Birmingham to facilitate the transfer of Statements to EHCPs.

Emma has recently joined the Autism and CCN team in Worcestershire, and is reapplying her skills in a new way.

Colin Esrich - Specialist Teacher

Colin Esrich – according to his 6 and a half year old son

  • Colin is an identical twin
  • Colin likes to wear trousers
  • Colin is kind, considerate and friendly – this is one of my school rules
  • Colin helps children who are scared or nervous at school. Some children need extra help because they have autism which means they don’t think exactly the same way as other children
  • Colin is happy to go into schools. He does not want to sit at home in his room with no-one to see or talk to
  • When Colin goes to schools he says ‘Hello’ and then says ‘Goodbye’ and goes away. In between he talks with the children and plays LEGO ® sometimes. He wants them to be happy
  • Colin has a growth mind-set. He sometimes gets frustrated but he presses ‘back space’ a lot and tries again
  • Colin needs to get better at saving penalties

The less interesting adult bit

  • Colin became qualified as a teacher in 1997 and spent 7 years teaching outdoor education. He still has a passion for sustainability and loves the strength of the ‘Eco School’ agenda in Worcestershire schools.
  • Colin worked as a teacher in a special school in Berkshire for 9 years before joining the Autism / CCN Team in 2012.
  • Colin previously worked in the Further and Higher Education Team in Worcestershire before joining the schools team.
  • Colin has a Post Graduate Diploma in Autism (Children) from Birmingham University.
  • Colin works with children from Early Years through to high school and enjoys helping children and young people on the autism spectrum to reach their potential.

Nicky James - Specialist Teacher

Nicky is a specialist teacher for the Autism and CCN Team. She has experience of working predominately in primary settings, from reception to year six including mixed age and cross phase classes. She was a special needs co-ordinator for several years and a member of the senior leadership team.

Nicky has also worked for the Medical Education Team supporting both children with complex communication difficulties or a diagnosis of Autism, teaching them in a home setting when they were unable to access a school provision and transitioning them back to an educational environment, when they were well enough to do so. In this role she worked with children from five to sixteen years old.

In her current role Nicky completes a range of assessments and advice to schools and nursery settings, diagnostic assessment for the Umbrella Pathway, pupil intervention and AET Training.

The top things about working for the team are:

  • having the privilege of seeing so many unique and amazing children and young people with extraordinary talents 
  • being able to sprinkle magic dust, at every opportunity, and really see children flourish with appropriate strategies and support being employed by settings to help them progress
  • building relationships with settings and parents to support individuals
  • working with an amazing team, knowing we are making a difference!

Kimberley Turnbull - Specialist Teacher

Qualifications and Experience:

  • B.Mus – University of Hull
  • P.G.C.E – Oxford Brookes University
  • M.Ed (Education and Child Psychology) – Birmingham

Kimberly has had 28 years teaching experience in First and Primary Schools.  For 15 years she was Teacher-in-Charge of a Mainstream Autism Base and SENCo in a Worcestershire School.  She has lectured at Worcester University on Special Needs and Behaviour Management.  She has knowledge and understanding of a range of Special Needs, specialising in autism and complex communication needs.  

Current Role:

Kimberly has been working with the Autism/CCN Team since 2014.  She carries out assessments of children’s needs for a variety of purposes, including diagnostic and statutory, largely in relation to 4 key areas; social understanding, social communication, flexibility of thought and sensory processing.  She advises schools on how to meets the needs of children with a diagnosis of autism or who present with difficulties in their social interaction.  She also delivers individual and group interventions on a range of issues from social skills, conversational skills, emotional understanding, and autism awareness to extended programmes such as LEGO-Based Therapy and Homunculi Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. 
Kimberly and the other members of the Autism Team are members of the Umbrella Pathway Diagnostic Team and Pre-School Forum.

Kimberly has delivered autism training to a variety of clients, including Nurseries, First, Middle, Primary and Secondary Schools, Parents and Foster Carers. 

Favourite parts:

  • seeing the positive impact of the Autism Team’s input on the lives of children and their families
  • working with schools to enhance provision for autism throughout the county
  • being part of such a dedicated team

Merie Eglesfield - Specialist Teacher

Merie joined the Autism and CCN Team in February 2021 and is thrilled to be part of a great team supporting pupils, schools and families. In her career to date, Merie has worked as a teacher, in primary, secondary and in specialist setting and as a Teacher Adviser and a Senior Leader. She has also worked as an education consultant and as a university lecturer. With 21 years in education Merie has extensive experience of: leading subjects; managing staff teams; delivering training; and mentoring colleagues. She has an MPhil in Education focusing on inclusion and is an accredited Signalong Foundation Tutor

As Assistant Headteacher, Merie was responsible for embedding a whole school strategy for access and communication; she implemented new teaching and learning approaches; established numerous interventions; developed staff expertise and led EHCP Annual Reviews. Over the years Merie has delivered staff training at a local and national levels and has had worked published. She has extensive experience of developing links with outside agencies.

Merie is also trained in Lego Therapy, Colourful Semantics, WordAware, Picture Exchange (PECS), TEACCH.

Jo Chandler - Specialist Practitioner

As a Holistic Remedial Massage Therapist, (with the focus on providing stress relief) Jo’s interest in providing holistic, solution focussed support developed alongside her increasing contact with children on the autism spectrum and eventually led her interest in autism to becoming a desire to specialise.

She has accumulated nearly 30 years experience in the education, care and voluntary sectors, working with wide range of additional needs, specifically Autism. During this time she has worked with children from diverse backgrounds, aged 3 to 24 years, across varied settings, in early years through to university. 

Jo particularly enjoys delivering the Autism Awareness Mentor Programme. She thrives on complexity and challenge and enjoys aspects of the role where she is able to assess youngsters and personalise resources. Having witnessed a higher level of successful outcomes from the personalisation of learning materials and programmes, Jo was motivated to seek a specialist qualification in Autism, which she gained at Birmingham University. Jo has worked on the Autism and CCN Team for a number of years, first for the Further and Higher Education team, before moving to the Schools team. 

Jo likes people and parties but when she is taking time out to relax, she will happily spend time with books or get creative with art, photography and poetry. Jo has had displays at charity fundraising events/open days & also had exhibitions of her art and photography locally. She has also spent some time as a volunteer for St Richards Hospice.