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  • Choosing a school

  • Catchment area cheat

    School catchment area frenzy is gripping the nation as anxious parents lie, cheat, and even change their religion to get their offspring into the right school. And as the cost of living continues to soar and many independent school fees remain out of reach for the majority, there’s no sign of the trend slowing down, with hordes of parents willing to do almost anything to get their children into the state school of their choice.

  • Choosing a school - thoughts for parents

    What do you want for your child? State school or fee-paying? Day or boarding school? Single sex or co-education? It helps to have a game plan, even if you change it at a later date. What do you want from the school? Undoubtedly you want to find a great school, one that's ideal for your child, with great teaching and possibly good facilities to match.

  • Educating the gifted child

    Gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than they develop physically, emotionally and socially, posing some interesting problems. For some, rapidly grasping what others cannot can lead to boredom, frustration and inappropriate behaviour. In all these cases there are challenges for parents, teachers and the child, who sees conforming to the norm as a major peer requirement.

  • From embryo to 18 - how to survive the education highway

    A handful of schools literally demand that you apply for a place as soon as your child is born, which means it’s never too early to start planning your child’s education. In fact, it’s a process that can start even before you’ve conceived – and that goes for all parents, wherever they want their offspring to go to school.

    From embryo to 18, read on to find out how to survive the education highway. Our lively look at education planning for children of all ages and their parents aims to guide you through the schooling stages in both the independent and state sectors, and to tell you what to plan for and when.

    'Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.' John Wilmot

    With school gates firmly closed to visitors, prospective pupils and their parents need to find new ways of getting to know schools before making an informed decision. But in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown how can you replicate that ‘gut feel’ experience of visiting a school? The experts at The Good Schools Guide talks 'virtual open days' and offers tips to get you on the right track.

    Further reading

  • Getting the most out of parents’ evenings

    Parents’ evenings – not to be confused with daytime TV game shows, speed-dating or the Spanish Inquisition - are a rare chance to sit face-to-face with your child’s teachers.

  • How to prepare your child for entry to a selective independent school

    You’ve done your homework - been to the open days, studied the prospectuses, balanced larger playing fields against smaller classes, shorter journeys against longer bills. And now you’re ready to prepare your child.

  • Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI)

    The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) inspects schools that belong to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) which has more than 1,200 members, including many prestigious schools such as Eton, Harrow and Cheltenham Ladies' College.

  • Inspection reports from Ofsted

    Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skillstraining.

  • Mix and match state and private education

    All those scary newspaper statistics about the long-term costs of keeping your child in nappies and birthday presents pale into insignificance when set beside the £250,000+ you’ll need to educate a child privately from nursery to university. But paying for a private education from finger painting to Freshers’ Week is not an option for most families. .

  • Northern Ireland education system

    The education system in Northern Ireland has some important differences to the one in England and Wales. Whilst the school year also starts in September, the child’s age on 1 July (rather than 1 September, as in England and Wales) determines when they start school and what school year they are in. As elsewhere, children start primary school at 4+ and move on to secondary school at 11+.

  • Online and virtual open days

    With schools once again closing their gates to all but a few children – and with no certainty as to when they will reopen – the ‘Virtual Open Day’ has become the main tool at a school’s disposal when trying to attract prospective pupils and their parents.

  • Online schools

    Online schooling is an alternative to more traditional schooling, whereby children or young people learn either entirely or primarily online. Online schools and colleges have become particularly popular since COVID.

  • School open days

    They may not truly reflect day-to-day life at a school (this will be school at its best) but they'll give you a flavour of what's happening and allow you to soak up the atmosphere. They are your chance to have the upper hand, get a feel for the school and chat with pupils and staff. Do visit more than one school: it’s useful to compare and contrast.

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    At specialist music, dance or performing arts schools, the arts aren't optional extras. They’re intrinsic to the school curriculum. Students are expected to fit in high level training and hours of practice alongside a full academic provision.

    It's a lot to ask any child to take on, but for those with exceptional performing ability this kind of education can be transformative.

  • Scottish education system

    The education system in Scotland is completely different from the rest of the UK. It is based on the Curriculum for Excellence which covers education from 3-18 years old. Children in Scotland usually start primary school in mid to late August when they are aged between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half years old. Your child will be at primary school for seven years (p1-p7) before progressing to secondary school around the age of 11/12.

  • Understanding the British school system

    Normal primary school admissions are at 3+ into the nursery or 4+ into the reception class. Some are divided into infant and junior schools, the latter starting at 7 years. Most secondary schools start at 11. For a normal application, you will need to apply – with a local address - by around mid-January for primary schools and the end of October of the year before entry for secondary schools.

    • Alternative Schools
    • Alternative schools

      Alternative educationAlternative schools – sometimes known as progressive schools - offer an unconventional approach to education. They suit parents who consider traditional schooling a straightjacket and children who don’t flourish in more traditional settings.

      Why alternative schools?

      As parents we are never quite sure if we are doing this right. There are no guidebooks to bringing up children and when it comes to schooling, there is nothing more likely to cause sleepless nights. So much emphasis is put on education that as a parent you feel you just have to get it right…but how do you find the right fit for your child?

      With ever-increasing emphasis on exam results, it takes a brave parent to step off the mainstream carousel of fact cramming, regular homework and testing. If you are the sort of tiger parent who has already, in your mind’s eye, seen your child off to Oxbridge, alternative schooling probably isn’t for you. But one ‘alternative’ parent described it as a refuge from mainstream education where children are ‘criticised and their self-esteem damaged…like workers in a factory’. Read more

      Types of alternative education

    • Forest schools

      Forest schools aren’t actual physical schools. Instead, they refer to regular outdoor sessions, mostly at nursery or primary school level, in natural environments to enable children to develop confidence through hands-on learning.

    • Home education - a parent's guide to breaking up from the system

      First, the myths. Home education isn’t illegal in the UK (though it is in some other countries such as Germany). Nor is it deviant or something undertaken only by weirdos whose extreme religious or dietary views put them at odds with society. You’ll definitely encounter a few distinctly quirky perspectives among home educating parents but probably no more so than in any other community defending strongly held views that set it apart from the mainstream. Read more...

    • Montessori schools

      Creativity and exploration – this ethos puts children firmly at the centre of society. Philosophy:  Based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. Background: Pioneered by Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female doctor in 1907 to educate the poor in Italy. To the uninitiated, Montessori methods may seem like a free-for-all. Homework, testing and exams are seldom found. Montessori found that children learn best by doing ‘The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. A child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.’ - Maria Montessori.

    • Steiner-Waldorf schools

      Overview:  Steiner Waldorf aims to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment in harmony with different phases of a child’s development. Background: In 1919, Austrian philosopher and scientist, Rudolf Steiner, whose ideas founded the basis of Anthroposophy, began a school in Stuttgart for children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. This inspired a worldwide movement of schools.

    • The 'alternative' alternatives

      If you thought Steiner and Montessori schools were ‘alternative’, then take a look at The Guide’s ultimate alternative schools, so far removed from a traditional set up that some of them are world renowned. Categorised as ‘learning for life’, these schools take traditional schooling and turn it on its head. There are literally a handful scattered through the UK. Think Sands School in Devon, Brockwood Park and Summerhill. They are one of a kind and completely individual.

    • Grammar Schools
    • Finding a state grammar school


      Finding a state grammar school

      There are currently around 163 state funded grammar schools located in 36 English local authorities, with around 167,000 pupils between them. There are a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland, but none in Wales or Scotland. Almost half of these are in what are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools.

      How to find a state grammar school

      Word of warning: not all selective grammar schools have 'grammar' in their name. Bournemouth School and Dr Challoner's High School are just two examples. Likewise, many schools with grammar in their name are actually fee-paying independent schools (Bradford Grammar School and Bristol Grammar School for example).


      Grammar Schools further reading

    • Grammar school admissions

      State grammar schools select pupils by ability. Children are usually tested in the final year of primary school (aged 10/11), by an exam commonly known as the 11+, (see Understanding the 11+). A few schools test for entry at 13+, and many re-open their books at 16+. Some grammar schools now give preference to qualifying children on Pupil Premium. Read more

    • Grammar school appeals

      Your child has passed the 11+, but has not been offered a grammar school place. Or perhaps your child has narrowly missed the required mark or has not performed as expected in the tests. What can you do? Unfortunately passing the 11+ does not always guarantee you a place at a grammar school. Some will select by the highest score, others by proximity to the school. Every year a substantial number of grammar ability children are not offered a grammar school place on National Offer Day. If this has happened to your child you will, understandably, feel both disappointed and, probably, that the system is unfair. Read more

    • Grammar schools best value added

      We examined the value-added from KS2 to GCSE for 2017 to see which state selective grammar schools added the most value to their offspring. A note of caution - the more highly selective a grammar school, the less scope there will be to add value. Read more

    • State grammar school local authorities

      State grammar schools are located in 38 UK local authorities, including Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Enfield, Kingston upon Thames See complete list

    • Understanding the 11+

      This is the must read article for any parent of a child under eleven years of age who is contemplating a selective or independent school education. We unravel the mystery behind 11+ testing and examinations and explain what you need to do, when and how, to ensure maximum success for your child. Read more

    • Independent Schools
    • Boarding prep schools: what you need to know

      Nearly all boarding preps go up to age 13 (year 8) because they prepare pupils for senior boarding schools that start in year 9. The majority of pupils at these prep schools start ‘proper’ boarding at around age 11 although some may have tried it out previously via flexi boarding or doing the occasional ‘taster’ night. A few prep schools admit boarders under 10 and make special provision for them with bedrooms that look much closer to how things are at home and, because numbers are small, a regime that is flexible.

    • Considering boarding in the sixth form?

      It’s quite common for young people to want a change of scene after GCSEs and some may choose to move to a school where they can board for their last two years. We visit many schools where there are more boarders in the sixth form than lower down the school – largely because 16- to 18-year-olds are keen to concentrate on their studies, socialise with their friends in their spare time and get a taste of living away from home prior to university.

    • Independent school system in a nutshell

      Left scratching your head about the difference between public school, private school and independent school? And where on earth prep schools and boarding schools fit into the picture? Fear not – our at a glance guide will set you straight:

      Independent Schools further reading

    • Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI)

      The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) inspects schools that belong to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) which has more than 1,200 members, including many prestigious schools such as Eton, Harrow and Cheltenham Ladies' College.

    • Prep and pre-prep schools: what do I need to know?

      As their name suggests, the main aim of ‘preparatory schools’, or prep schools, is to prepare children for entry to fee-paying senior schools at 11 or 13. Traditionally, pre-preps take children from 3 or 4 and prepare them for moving on to preps at 7 or 8. There are fewer stand-alone pre-preps than there used to be as their main market, the boarding prep, has declined in numbers.

    • Preparing your child for private school interviews

      While state schools are prohibited from interviewing any but potential sixth form students, the interview is an integral part of nearly every private school admissions process, and tends to send the applicant’s parents, rather than the actual applicant, into a spin. Parents feel considerably more responsible for their child’s social presentation than for his or her ability to do long division or conjugate French verbs.

    • Private school fees, scholarships and bursaries

      You want an independent school education for your children but can’t afford the fees? These days, independent education - especially if you have more than one child - is out of the financial reach of most people. Fees have rocketed in relation to salaries and inflation, and families whose children have traditionally boarded for generations are now looking for cheaper alternatives.

    • What type of boarding - full, weekly or flexi?

      If you’re reading this you’ve probably already decided that boarding might suit your son or daughter. If so the next step is to consider the arrangement that best suits your family. Unlike the old days, when youngsters were packed off to school at the age of 7 or 8 and didn’t see home again until the end of term, today’s boarding schools offer parents a choice of full boarding, weekly boarding, flexi boarding or even a combination of these. For instance, flexi boarders may wish to weekly board during exam times or become full boarders in the sixth form.

    • Nursery Schools
    • Childcare choices for under 5s

      Child care for the under 5sWhat type of childcare suits your family best? We’ve not met a parent who has done birth to school without some form of help. Everyone needs a new perspective on – or a break from - their children at some point in those 5 years. Children also need interaction and to form attachments with those other than their parents for their well-being. Read more

    • Nurseries and early years – your questions answered

      All work and no play? All play and no work? Or something inbetween? Whatever you choose, think safety first. Nursery / early years education should be an exciting, important, formative part of your child's development but finding what's ideal for your child isn't always easy.  Read more

    • Nurseries for special needs

      Children with a Statement or Education, Health and Care Plan are eligible for free childcare from the age of two. But how do you find a nursery which has the expertise to cater for children with special needs, or which is willing to offer a place to an SEN child? Read more

    • Nursery schools – finding the right one

      The right preschool setting will be one in which your child can thrive, flourish and develop - socially, cognitively, emotionally, physically. But there are no hard and fast rules about which ones are best, so try not to have too many preconceived ideas and explore all options so you make the right decision for you. Read more

    • State Schools
    • A guide to state schools

      State schools exist not only in a variety of forms, but with nuances between those.  Some areas continue to have a selective system at 11; others do not. Most secondary schools – and quite a few primary schools – are now academies. Plenty of these are part of large academy chains such as Harris Federation, E-Act or ARK. Other schools are free schools, set up by local groups, often with a faith designation. These are all state schools, funded by the government, but academies and free schools are not overseen by local authorities. Controversially, they are permitted to employ unqualified teachers, set their own admission criteria and ignore the national curriculum..

      However, worry less about the type of school - there are good and bad within all - but look instead at the individual school and how well it will suit your child.

      Englaish education system


      Primary schools - age 4 to 11

    • Primary school admissions – finding the right school

      It’s a nerve-wracking time, deciding where you would like your child to take his or her first steps into school. A good state primary school will not only launch your child into a happy and fulfilling education journey, but also engage you in the local community. The friends you and your child make there are likely to be long-standing ones.

    • Primary school admissions – what is the process?

      You must apply through your local authority for a place at a primary school, even if it’s linked to your child’s current nursery. Normal primary school admissions are at 4+ into the reception class. Applications open on different days in each local council area - usually at the start of the autumn term of the year before your child is due to start school. Check your local authority website for details of the catchment area for primary schools nearby, faith requirements and key dates.

    • Primary school appeals – do I stand a chance?

      The harsh reality is that you have very little chance of success at appeal for a reception place, especially if you live in a crowded city.  Firstly, because local authorities have a duty only to provide a place at a school, not at a school of your choosing. And secondly, infant class size legislation restricts classes to 30 children in reception/KS1. 

    • Primary schools – top tips when applying

      Parents of children born between 1 September 2016 and 31 August 2017 have until 15 January 2020 to apply for a primary school place for the academic year starting in September 2021. Having advised parents of school applications for more than 30 years, The Good Schools Guide recommends the following read more

    • Secondary National Offer Day 2020

      On Monday, 2 March, parents across England find out which secondary school their child has got into for the start of the new academic year in September. For some parents, the place their child is offered is a blessed relief, for others it is the beginning of hand-wringing, sleepless nights and possible an appeal to the local authority.

    • Secondary school admissions – finding the right school

      You are not ‘free to choose’ the state secondary school you want your child to attend, but you can ‘express a preference.’ Those already in a school may not need to apply formally for places in year 12, but admissions criteria must be the same for both internal and external applicants and should detail any entry requirements eg number and quality of GCSE passes. Schools that offer a wider range of courses can state what courses are available, the entry requirements for each, and how priority for entry to these courses will be determined if they are oversubscribed.

    • Secondary school admissions – what is the process?

      For a place at secondary school, you must apply through your local authority, even if it’s linked to your child’s current primary school. Normal secondary school admissions are at 11+ into year 7. Applications open on different days in each local council area - usually at the start of the autumn term of year 6, though for most grammar schools you will need to register for the entrance test during the summer term of year 5.

    • Secondary school appeals – do I stand a chance?

      Despite all you’ve heard about competition for places at the secondary school you want for your child, it’s still a huge shock when your offer comes through for Unpopular Academy instead. Don’t despair  - you have a legal right to appeal to any school named on your preference form. But it’s vital to have a back-up plan alongside going through the appeals process.

    • Secondary schools – top tips when applying

      The Good Schools Guide has been helping parents choose the right school for their children for more than 30 years. Here are our top tips and pitfalls to avoid on your secondary school application, which is due to land with your local authority by 31 October.

      Other options

    • State boarding schools

      If you think your child would benefit from a boarding school education, but are put off by the high fees and consequent limited social mix of a typical independent boarding school, you may find that a state boarding school is the answer. Read more...

      State grammar schools
      Counties such as Kent or Buckinghamshire are ‘selective authorities’ and most families will have at least one grammar school close to where they live. Elsewhere, for example in Reading or Kingston-on-Thames, there are just one or two grammar schools and competition for places at these is ferocious. Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Read more...

      Further reading

      Northern Ireland Education System The education system in Northern Ireland has some important differences to the one in England and Wales. Whilst the school year also starts in September, the child’s age on 1 July (rather than 1 September, as in England and Wales) determines when they start school and what school year they are in. As elsewhere, children start primary school at 4+ and move on to secondary school at 11+.

      Scottish Education System The education system in Scotland is completely different from the rest of the UK. It is based on the Curriculum for Excellence which covers education from 3-18 years old. Children in Scotland usually start primary school in mid to late August when they are aged between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half years old. Your child will be at primary school for seven years (p1-p7) before progressing to secondary school around the age of 11/12.

      Catchment area cheat Pressure for places in the UK’s best state schools is intensifying with state grammar schools leading the way. Popular schools see upwards of 10 applicants for every place. In 2014, almost half of children in some areas have been rejected from their preferred secondary school. Catchment areas are already shrinking as parents who had planned on private schooling join the battle for places in the best state schools.

      Inspection reports from Ofsted As with most reports, there’s a code to decipher and a few questions to ask. The local school gets a glowing report, yet you know half the population are banned from the shopping centre. Puzzling? So just what do inspection reports tell us and have they any value? The answers are lots, and yes, if you know how to read them.

      Understanding the British school system Normal primary school admissions are at 3+ into the nursery or 4+ into the reception class. Some are divided into infant and junior schools, the latter starting at 7 years. Most secondary schools start at 11. For a normal application, you will need to apply – with a local address - by around mid-January for primary schools and the end of October of the year before entry for secondary schools.

      When to put your child’s name down for a school A handful of schools literally demand that you apply for a place as soon as your child is born, which means it’s never too early to start planning your child’s education. In fact, it’s a process that can start even before you’ve conceived – and that goes for all parents, wherever they want their offspring to go to school.

  • Special Educational Needs

  • Special educational needs introduction

    Young boy studying

    Need help?

    Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need. Our SEN consultancy team advises on both special schools, and the mainstream schools with good SEN support, from reception through to the specialist colleges for 19+.

    Special Educational Needs Index

    • Adoption
    • Adopted children and issues in education

      Sadly the impact of early trauma doesn't disappear when children are placed in loving families, and the effects in education for adopted children can be significant. How can schools and parents help adopted children to reach their full potential?

    • Autism
    • Anxiety in girls with autism

      High levels of anxiety are commonly seen in autistic people, but it manifests in a different way in girls to boys. Eating disorders, self-harming, and depression can be some of the effects. How can parents recognise and deal with anxiety in an autistic daughter?

    • Apps for autism

      We select the best apps which can help autistic children with exploring feelings, coping with stress, gaining greater independence, and painting without getting their hands dirty. 

    • ASD - autism spectrum disorder

      All people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have some degree of social and communication difficulties. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. Some people have accompanying learning disabilities, others have average or above-average intelligence.

    • Autism in girls

      Autism in girls can be harder to spot than in boys, because they are better at imitating social actions. How can parents spot the signs of autism in their daughter, and tackle the meltdowns, eating disorders, and anxiety that come with it?

    • Autism interventions

      From ABA to SPELL by way of PBS - you need to know your way around the acronyms to understand the various approaches to autism used in schools. 

    • Managing autism - lessons I've learned

      Rosie White gives a personal account of the strategies she has learned and adopted from autism courses, which she says have made her family's home life a much happier one.

    • Social skills

      When a child is unhappy at school, it's often not the academic work, but their failure to cope socially, that is the source of most unhappiness. How do you teach social skills to those to whom it doesn't come intuitively, and what can schools do to help?

    • Social Stories

      Everyday events such as haircuts and trips to the dentist can be terrifying for a child with special needs. How can you use social stories to prepare children and prevent meltdowns and anxiety? 

    • Behavioural
    • ADHD in girls

      ADHD is often missed in girls, because they present differently to boys with the condition.  A girl with ADHD may be well-behaved, and might have been misdiagnosed with depression.

    • Attachment disorder

      Attachment disorder is not only seen in children who have been in care. It can be caused by other early trauma like illness or separation from a parent. However they can fully recover with the correct care and attention.

    • Attention defecit (hyperactivity) disorders (ADHD)

      ADD/ADHD is a neurological condition, probably genetic in origin, characterised by impulsiveness and lack of forethought. Children with AD(H)D seem unable to sit still, finish tasks, concentrate or even notice what is going on around them. 

    • Challenging behaviour: What causes it, and how to manage it

      Challenging behaviour is a means of communication, when children lack the communication and social skills to explain their needs. We look into strategies to manage it in the heat of the moment and longer term.

    • Identifying and dealing with PDA

      The signs of PDA, and strategies for dealing with it at home and at school.

    • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

      Children who constantly argue and disobey both parents and teachers, much more than would normally be expected, and have trouble with friendships, may have ODD. The defining characteristic is a fight against being controlled.

    • Pathological Demand Avoidance

      Children with  PDA have an anxiety-driven need to be in control, and will go to extreme lengths to avoid everyday demands. They can appear charming on the surface, but struggle with the subtleties of social interaction.

    • Tourette syndrome

      Tourette’s syndrome (TS) usually starts in childhood, around the age of 7. Tourette syndrome is a recognised medical condition, which is often inherited, but the cause is not yet understood. There are treatments, but there is no cure. It is a very complex condition and can be described, with equal accuracy, as a movement disorder, a neurological condition, or a neuro-psychiatric condition.

    • Dyslexia
    • Best mainstream schools for dyslexia

      How can you find the mainstream schools which offer the best support for dyslexia? What should you look for, and what should you ask about?

    • Dyslexic - is that my child?

      Dyslexia is commonly understood to encompass difficulties with reading, spelling and writing. But as an umbrella term referring to a variety of difficulties with underlying skills, such as phonological processing, or working memory, the presenting problems for many children with a diagnosis of dyslexia will be different.

    • Reading difficulties

      Learning to read can be a challenge for some children. Some will simply take longer to master it, but it can be a symptom of dyslexia, vision problems, or emotional difficulties.

    • Dyspraxia
    • Dyspraxia: Top tips for the school day

      Difficulties with co-ordination and organisation can make everyday tasks more difficult for dyspraxic children. Here's our tips to help them through the day from school run to homework.

    • What is dyspraxia

      Dyspraxia is often referred to as ‘clumsy child syndrome’, but in practice it is more complex than that. It is a developmental difficulty that can overlap with other conditions such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and social and communication difficulties.

    • Family
    • Bullying and children with special needs

      Children with special educational needs and disabilities are three times more likely to be bullied than their peers. We look at the strategies parents can use to tackle bullying, and what you can expect your school to do.

    • Clothing for special needs

      Whether you need autism friendly shoes, laces for dyspraxics, pull up school trousers, or easy on-off gloves, we know where you can find them.

    • Clubs and activities for children with SEN

      From circus skills to snowboarding, coding to ice hockey, we round up the best clubs and activities for special needs children.

    • Developing friendship skills

      No-one wants to play with me. Words we dread as a parent. How can we teach friendship skills to children who struggle with appropriate social skills and self-esteem?

    • Fear of needles

      No-one likes having a needle in their arm, but they are a necessary part of childhood. But what do you do if your child has an overwhelming fear of needles, or is unable to understand the procedure?

    • Flexible working - what rights do parents have?

      Parents of children with special needs may need to take more time off work than others. What are your rights to flexible working? What kind of working hours are you entitled to request? How can you challenge an employer's refusal to allow flexible working?

    • Flying with children with special needs

      Travel with a special needs child can be fraught and stressful. And airports can be guaranteed to set your holiday off on the wrong foot. We've asked the UK's airports to tell us how they can help families with SEN and disabled children.

    • Fussy eating and refusing food

      Tactics to use with children who will only eat certain foods, refuse to try new foods, or will not eat enough.

    • Gaming and autism

      Autism and gaming tends to go together like fish and chips. How do you manage the obsessions, and protect a child with autism from online dangers?

    • Holiday resorts for children with special needs

      From Cornwall to the Caribbean, we've found the resorts where you and your special needs child will be welcomed, and special equipment and support can be provided.

    • Holidays with an SEN child

      Our tips on everything from pre-holiday planning to days on the beach, which make the experience less stressful.

    • I am in the wrong body: gender dysphoria

      Children with autism are seven times more likely than neurotypical children to experience gender dysphoria, the conviction that their gender does not match their biological sex. We look at how you can distinguish gender dysphoria from autistic traits, and talk to two parents about how they coped with their child's transition.

    • Just diagnosed? Carrie Grant's advice

      When a child is first diagnosed with a special need, many parents find they are pushed out to contend with it with just a leaflet in their hand. Broadcaster Carrie Grant, who has four children with SEN, gives the benefit of her experience to those with a new diagnosis.

    • Music lessons for SEN children

      Music can help children with special needs to express themselves and to make sense of the world around them. We explain how music lessons can be adapted for children with learning needs, and where to look for individual tutors or music therapists.

    • Puberty: How to prepare girls with special needs

      How do you teach a girl with special needs about puberty, and how to manage periods when she is at school?

    • Residential trips - how to prepare a child with SEN

      School residential trips can be daunting for a child with SEN, from fear of the unknown or breaks in routine, to dealing with issues such as bedwetting.  How can you best prepare your child, and the school staff?

    • Siblings of special needs children

      Siblings of children with special needs are at greater risk of stress and depression; but there are positive aspects too. We talk to parents and siblings of SEN children, to discover how to identify the siblings at risk, and how to manage these relationships within the family. 

    • Sleep training

      Is night-time the stuff of nightmares for your family? We look at sleep training strategies to enable parents to manage the bedtime routine without meltdowns, and ensure a better night's sleep for the whole family.

    • Starting a new school: When your child has SEN

      Starting a new school is especially daunting for a child with special needs.  Here's how to prepare them.

    • Surviving the summer holidays with your SEN child

      If you're living in dread of managing the summer holidays with an SEN child, our toolkit will provide some strategies.

    • Toilet training children with autism

      Trying to toilet train a child with autism or other SEN can be immensely stressful, and it can take much longer than usual. We look at the impact of sensory and social communication difficulties, and offer some practical tips.

    • Genetic
    • Genetic disorders

      A look at genetic disorders: Down's syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Williams syndrome, Rett syndrome. Down’s syndrome is a chromosomal disorder. About 600 babies with the condition are born in the UK each year. Diagnosis is confirmed via a blood test called a chromosomal karyotype.

    • Help
    • Classroom help for children with SEN

      Schools and colleges which discriminate against pupils with disabilities, including special educational needs, are breaking the law. Since 2010, this has been covered by the Equality Act which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act everywhere except in Northern Ireland, where it is still in force. The Equality Act applies to all schools – state, fee-paying, academies, and special schools. Discrimination covers admissions, the way education is provided and facilities accessed. It also covers unlawful exclusions.

    • Getting an educational psychologist assessment

      An assessment by an educational psychologist will help a school understand how best they can help a child with special educational needs. The EP may also recommend a referral to other professionals such as a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, optometrist or a paediatrician, as well as sources of help such as the child and family consultation services.

    • Getting SEN funding for an independent mainstream school

      It is possible to get the local authority to pay for an independent school place, or failing that, to pay for additional support within an independent school of the parents' choosing. We look at the grounds on which you can gain this funding.

    • SEN Professionals

      A number of key personnel may advise, assess and treat your child, to help give them the best possible chances to realise their potential. In an ideal world, a multi-disciplinary team made up of an occupational therapist, physiotherapist, educational psychologist, speech and language therapist and paediatrician would be available to help every child who needs it.

    • Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo)

      A SENCo, or special educational needs co-ordinator, is the school teacher who is responsible for assessing, planning and monitoring the progress of children with special needs. SENCOs work to ensure a child with SEN has their needs met as fully as possible. In English state schools a SENCo should ensure that all staff follow the school’s SEN code of practice.

    • Teaching Assistants

      Teaching  Assistants (TAs) or Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) are taking on increasingly important roles within the classroom, but they are not a replacement for a trained teacher (or therapist) who should maintain overall responsibility for the teaching and learning of all children in their care. 

    • Learning
    • Apps for dyslexia and dyspraxia

      Apps can be a handy way to encourage struggling readers and to help children with writing difficulties. But which to choose? We highlight some of the best on the market for dyslexia and dyspraxia.

    • Dual or multiple exceptionality (DME)

      A child who has difficulties in some areas, yet excels in others, could well have Dual or Multiple Exceptionality (DME).

    • Dyscalculia - when maths doesn't add-up

      Developmental Dyscalculia (DD) is a specific learning disorder that is characterised by impairments in learning basic arithmetic facts, processing numerical magnitude and performing accurate and fluent calculations. These difficulties must be quantifiably below what is expected for an individual’s chronological age, and must not be caused by poor educational or daily activities or by intellectual impairments.

    • Dysgraphia in school - difficulty with writing

      Dysgraphia is a condition that causes problems with written expression. For many children with dysgraphia, holding a pencil and organising letters on a line are difficult. They may also struggle with spelling, and with processing their thoughts and writing them down. They are frequently articulate and lively contributors to discussion but will avoid putting pen to paper. 

    • Exam access arrangements

      From extra time to using a scribe, we look at the access arrangements available for pupils sitting external exams, and who qualifies for them.

    • Global learning difficulties

      Children with learning difficulties find it more difficult to learn things than most others of their age. Specific learning difficulties may mean a child of average or above average intelligence has trouble with learning to read, perhaps, or with maths. Global learning difficulties are more generalised and are not caused by a specific neural problem.

    • Handwriting difficulties
      The best way to work on handwriting at home is not to do regular handwriting practice, says our expert.  Read our tips on how to recognise when a child has difficulties with handwriting, and what parents can do to help.
    • Learning Centres

      Learning Centres can be an ideal halfway house for children struggling with maths or literacy. They can offer intensive help for part of the day, whilst enabling children to spend the rest of the time in their mainstream school. 

    • Mainstream schools for special needs

      Children with special needs and disabilities are legally entitled to attend mainstream schools, but there can be huge variations in the welcome and the support you will get from these. If you're considering mainstream for a child with SEND, here's what you need to be asking.

    • Moderate learning difficulties

      Children with moderate learning difficulties have general developmental delay resulting in attainments significantly below expected levels. They can cope well in mainstream primaries with good support, but usually find the greater challenge of mainstream secondary too stressful.

    • Revision tips for children with ADHD

      Telling a child with ADHD to revise is never going to work. Low level distractions can provide the additional stimulus they need, and close deadlines can inject the urgency and challenge they crave.

    • University for students with special needs

      University admission departments are keen to encourage applications from pupils with special needs and disabilities, and have well-established systems for putting support in place. We look at how to find the university which will work best for you, and what financial and other support you can expect.

    • What is an IEP (or ILP)?

       A child who is being withdrawn from class for additional support, or receiving differentiated work, should always have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). We explain how a good IEP should be prepared and used.

    • Legal
    • Adjustments for pupils with SEN: What is reasonable?

      Under the Equality Act schools are required to make 'reasonable adjustments' so that children with SEN can participate equally in the curriculum and receive the same quality of education as their peers. But things get murky when it comes to whether parents or school should pay for any additional support or aids, as our legal experts explain.

    • Annual reviews

      Annual reviews are your chance to push for further support at school, address anything which isn't working, or even request a different school. Here's how to get the best out of them.

    • Children with SEN but no Statement or EHCP

      If your child has special educational needs, but does not have a Statement of SEN or an Education, Health and Care Plan, what support is he/she entitled to? And what rights do you have to challenge the school if you feel it is not doing enough?

    • Education Health and Care Plans: What should a good one look like?

      There are many tales of local authorities confusing or rushing the EHCP process, and inadequate Plans written as a result. What does a good Plan look like, and why is it important that provision is written under a particular section?

    • Getting an EHCP

      Everything you need to know about the EHCP process, from requesting one to challenging the final plan.

    • Post-19: New education rights under EHC Plans

      Young people with SEN can now be funded to stay in education up to the age of 25, under the EHCP system. How do you get an EHC Plan beyond 19, and what rights does it give?

    • Refusal to assess for an EHCP

      Local authorities are routinely turning down parents' requests for an EHCP assessment, but do not be deterred. You have a 90% chance of winning an appeal against their decision.

    • School admissions: SEN children without an EHCP

      How is your school application treated if your child has SEN, but does not have an Education, Care and Health Plan? And when will the child be given higher priority for a school place?

    • School exclusions: pupils with special educational needs/disabilities

      Children with special educational needs and disabilities are much more likely to be excluded from school, accounting for two-thirds of all exclusions. We look at the procedure schools must follow, and the legal grounds on which you can challenge an exclusion.

    • Mental Health
    • Apps for mental health

      Apps can be a useful tool for children to deal with bullying or anxiety, or to disclose their concerns when they are unable to do so face-to-face. We look at what's available.

    • Emotional wellbeing in children: When to seek help

      You suspect that all is not well with your child's mental health, but how can you distinguish between a transient phase and something more serious, and how do you get help?

    • Mental health problems in adolescents

      If you are worried about your teenager's mental health you won't be in the minority. One in ten adolescents suffers from a recognised mental health issue, and one in three reports feeling sad or down more than once a week. What can you and the school do to help?

    • Self-harming

      The secondary school and university years are when young people are most at risk of self-harming. We look at the reasons that lie behind it, and investigate new apps which can provide support in the lonely hours.

    • Schools
    • Choosing a residential special school

      When your child goes to a residential special school, the school is only half the picture. It's equally important that you can be happy with the care staff and the provision made for them out of school hours. Here's our guide on how to winkle out the best residential schools.

    • Choosing a school for special needs

      How do you choose a school for a child with special educational needs? What should you look for in mainstream schools, and how do you get funding for independent specialist schools for children with complex needs?

    • When is it best to go specialist for SpLD?

      If your child has specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia it can be a dilemma whether to place your child in mainstream or specialist education. How do you decide which is the best type of school for your child?

    • Why choose a special school?

      Like their mainstream counterparts, special schools must teach the national curriculum and use its assessment procedures, and they have broadly the same duties and responsibilities to children in their care as mainstream schools. An Educational Health and Care (EHC) plan is invariably required to get a place in a special school.

    • Sensory
    • Auditory processing difficulties

      Auditory processing difficulty (APD) arises because of the inability of the brain and ear to coordinate and so process information and work out the meaning of sounds. Children with APD may be unusually bothered by noisy environments, and cannot maintain attention.

    • Sensory difficulties

      Sensory difficulties can include sight and hearing difficulties – and a combination of visual impairment, multi-sensory impairments (MSI), auditory processing or hearing impairments - those with a significant loss may communicate through sign language such as British Sign Language (BSL) instead of, or as well as, speech,

    • Sensory processing disorders

      Fussy eater, over-emotional, stubborn, disruptive - just some of the characteristics which can be found in children with sensory processing disorders. How can you identify an affected child, and what can parents and teachers do to help?

    • Speech and Language
    • Makaton - what is it, and how can it help speech development?

      How does Makaton help speech development? When should you start using it, and why use it even when a child has some verbal ability?

    • Selective mutism

      The term selective mutism describes the behaviour of children who are able to speak, but remain silent with certain people or in certain settings; they are often misunderstood and may be wrongly punished for their inability to speak and communicate.Many children with selective mutism are still being misdiagnosed with autism, oppositional defiant disorder, or learning disabilities.

    • Speech and language difficulties (Sp&LD)

      The causes of speech and language disorders may range from hearing loss, neurological disorders or brain damage to drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft palate, or psychological trauma. Often, however, the cause is unknown. When a child is noticeably behind their peers in acquiring speech and/or language skills, communication is considered delayed.

    • Types
    • Epilepsy

      The impact of epilepsy at school, and what schools should do to help

    • Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

      Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the most common, non-genetic cause of learning disability, and it is on the rise. Affected children have a range of difficulties which may include problems with speech, language and communication; gross and fine motor skills; attention deficits; and cognitive deficits. We look at strategies to use at school and at home.

    • Fragile X

      Fragile X gets its name from an abnormal site on the X chromosome. Its incidence is higher in boys, and they are more severely affected than girls with the condition - about 80 per cent of boys will have learning difficulties compared to one-quarter of girls.

    • Moderate learning difficulties

      Many children with moderate learning difficulties, or global learning difficulties, can be educated in mainstream schools, but it's not always the best option for them. How to weigh up the decision between mainstream and special schools.

    • Severe learning difficulties

      Children with severe learning difficulties (SLD) struggle with understanding, learning and remembering new skills. How should they be supported at school?

      Click here to sign up for our Special Educational Needs newsletter

      • Choosing the best schools for special needs
        The Good Schools Guide website currently has reviews of 130 special schools. We are often asked how we arrive at the schools we include, and how we go about the reviews. Put simply, these are the schools that people tell us are doing an exceptional job in their field. That might be parents with children at the school, teachers, or professionals such as visiting therapists and educational psychologists. And we have a team of regional editors with a hotline to school gate conversations
      • Right to a five day education post-16
        We’ve heard of a number of cases where youngsters with special needs who are over 16 have been told their timetable will be reduced as a result of cuts. If you are in this situation, there may be a legal remedy.
      • New school reviews from our SEN team
        It wasn’t hard to turn up the heat on heads when visits late last term were mainly carried out in 30 degree temperatures. In our latest batch of reviews we discovered what you can teach when you teach a man to fish, that blind children can excel at photography, and who makes the best chips in Worcestershire.
      • Dyscalculia figures don’t add up
        The prevalence of dyscalculia – a specific learning disorder in maths – could be just as high as for dyslexia, researchers have found. The study by Queen’s University Belfast looked at the maths performance of 2,400 pupils over a number of years, and found that 112 pupils may have dyscalculia – similar to the expected rate of occurrence of dyslexia. But while 100 of the group had been diagnosed with dyslexia, only one had been identified with dyscalculia.
      • Need to know
        A school for young people over sixteen with special educational needs and disabilities has been approved by Southwark Council. It will be based at Bishops House, and aims to help young people prepare them for the world of work through training and work experience placements.
      • Ofsted promises to judge schools by their SEND provision
        The experience of pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities is a bellwether of the school’s performance,’ says Ofsted inspector and SEND specialist adviser Nick Whittaker.
      • Ofsted Watch: Our pick of the new reports
        Star performer
        s We’re offering you two for one this time, in recognition of two new schools which have pulled off the feat of an outstanding in their first inspection. Aurora Hanley School in Stoke on Trent caters for pupils of 6-19 with autism. Ofsted says: ‘Incidents of poor behaviour are diminishing quickly as pupils gain confidence and self-esteem. Pupils make very strong progress from their starting points. Leaders keep the school open at some points in the holidays for pupils to ‘keep in touch’. They acknowledge that many of their pupils are capable of academic qualifications and this is their aim.’

  • Relocation

  • Relocating from China

    China flagOur consultants were contacted by a Chinese family with twin 11-year-old girls. The family had just found out they were relocating to London in the summer and would need year 7 places for their daughters. Most schools had closed their registration for 11+ exams the previous term but our consultant managed to persuade several top schools to take late entries. Some agreed that the girls could take the entrance exams at their current school Read more...

  • Relocating from Russia

    Russia flagA Russian family contacted our consultancy service and asked us to advise them on the best English boarding school for their highly academic 16-year-old son. The situation was urgent because their son had decided at short notice that he wanted to study for A levels in England with a view to applying to Cambridge. Our consultant spoke to the parents and also to the son in order to get as much information as possible about the kind of school they were looking for. Read more...

  • Relocating from Thailand

    Thailand FlagA family moving to England from Thailand at very short notice asked our consultancy service to find a private school for their two children. This urgent situation was complicated further by the fact that the boy needed a year 10 place and the family wanted his three-year-old sister to be at the same school. The family also wanted a school that offered boarding in case this was necessary in the future. Read more...

  • Area Guides

  • Dulwich and Herne Hill

    Excellent state and independent schools. A patch where it pays to pay attention to admissions criteria.

  • South Hams

    Totnes, Kingsbridge, Salcombe, Dartmouth & South Brent schools. Much good schooling, and a strong strain of alternative education, but bits to steer clear of too.

  • Torbay

    Schools in Brixham, Paignton and Torquay. Good grammar schools, a variable picture elsewhere.

  • Curricula and Exams

  • At a glance curriculum guide

    Our curriculum guide lets you know what stage of education your child will be at according to their age, as well as what exams they may be taking.


    Age School year Stage of curriculum Exams
    4-5 Reception Early years Foundation Stage  
    5-6 Year 1 Key stage 1  
    6-7 Year 2 Key stage 1 KS1 Sats
          More >>


    Age School year Stage of curriculum Exams
    4-5 Reception Foundation Phase  
    5-6 Year 1 Foundation Phase  
    6-7 Year 2 Foundation Phase  
          More >>

    N Ireland

    Age School year Stage of curriculum Exams
    4-5 Year 1 Foundation Phase  
    5-6 Year 2 Foundation Phase  
    6-7 Year 3 Key stage 1  
          More >>


    Age School year Stage of curriculum Exams
    4-5 P1 Early level  
    5-6 P2 First level  
    6-7 P3 First level  
          More >>
  • National curriculum for 14 to 16 year olds

    It's not only the type of qualification you need to think about; the subjects you opt to study at 14+ can have far reaching consequences on A level and beyond. Careers and university options may seem like distant dreams, but it's important you check out advanced course requirements now to ensure that your options will enable to you take the courses you want at A level and university.

  • National curriculum for 16 to 18 year olds

    What you study post-16 is likely to shape a huge chunk of your future. If you are considering university study or apprenticeships at 18, make sure you scrutinise course requirements before choosing your advanced level study courses. It's important to think about the type of examination you opt for - A level, Highers, Pre-U, IB etc.

  • National curriculum for 4 to 14 year olds

    All state schools in England and Wales must follow a national curriculum which is divided into different key stages. Key stages 1 to 3 cover school years 1 to 9 and ages 5 to 14.

    Primary Schools

  • Primary school: SATS, what are they?

    Sats (Standard Assessment Tests) measure children’s educational achievement in years 2 and 6, with the ultimate aim of holding schools to account for the attainment of their pupils and the progress they make.

    Secondary Schools

  • Progress 8 and Attainment 8 what are they?

    Progress 8 aims to capture the progress a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school. It is a type of value added measure. Attainment 8 measures the achievement of a pupil across 8 qualifications.

  • Secondary school: common entrance (CE)

    Common entrance (usually shortened to CE) is the name of the examination taken for entrance into some senior independent schools at age 11 (usually girls) or 13 (boys and girls).The 11+ CE examination is used mostly by girls’ boarding schools it consists of papers in English, maths and science. The 13+ examination covers eight core subjects at a higher level.

  • Secondary school: Northern Ireland transfer test

    Entrance to grammar schools in Northern Ireland is via an 11+ exam called the transfer test. There are two types – known as the AQE and the GL. These two separate tests have been in place since the state-run 11+ exam came to an end in 2008. The AQE’s test is called the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) but is commonly referred to as the AQE. This is used mostly by the controlled (non-denominational) grammar schools. The PPTC’s test is called the GL and is mostly used by Catholic maintained grammar schools.

  • Secondary school: Scottish Nationals

    Curriculum for Excellence (CFE) is the Scottish curriculum for ages 3-15. Exams are set by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). They are National 1-5, Highers and Advanced Highers. The CFE was developed by the Scottish Government to deliver a much broader education with greater emphasis on independent learning. Schools have been given greater flexibility to design the curriculum for their Senior Phase pupils according to their area’s requirements. For example, some parts of the Highlands may focus on the Gaelic language or an Aberdeen school may have a focus on engineering.

  • Secondary school: understanding the 11+

    The 11+ is the entrance exam procedure for getting your brightish little button into a fee-paying or state grammar school. Much of the country abolished the 11+ several decades ago for state schools, but a few local authorities, such as Bucks and Kent, retained a large number of grammar schools and run county-wide entrance tests. In some other areas, such as Barnet and Kingston, a few grammar schools exist in tandem with the comprehensive system found in most of the country. These grammar schools set their own entrance exams.

    Sixth Form

  • Sixth form: EPQ (Extended Project Qualification)

    An EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) is a sixth-form qualification that involves students choosing a topic, carrying out research, creating a report (or ‘product’ and report) and delivering a presentation.

  • Sixth form: Oxbridge entrance

    For many A level students and their parents, Oxbridge is the sine qua non of a university education - a golden ticket to fame and fortune. But Oxbridge is certainly not for everyone, even some of the brightest, and certainly doesn’t guarantee riches, or even a job. Critics say that Oxford and Cambridge are too focused on academic ability.

  • Sixth form: subject selection, helping you choose

    If you thought it was difficult choosing GCSE subjects, there is added pressure at A level, IB or their equivalent. Whittling down GCSE choices from eight or more subjects can be tricky. If your school only offers A level and you prefer the breadth of IB, depth of Pre U or vocational orientation of BTec qualifications and the like, you may need to consider changing schools at 16.

    Further reading

  • Top ten tips for parents: revision

    The Good Schools Guide's top ten tips for parents of children revising for exams. Exams are undoubtedly nerve-racking for children and their parents. Fraught mums and dads watch over their children during the holidays or 'study leave' and wonder to what degree they should be helping. So, with that in mind, here are our top ten tips on how to help children to revise effectively.

    Understanding the British school system

    State schools

    Independent schools

    Grammar schools

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