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  • Choosing a school

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

    A lively look at education planning for children of all ages and their parents. We guide you through the schooling stages from 0-18 in both the independent and state sectors, and 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

    Read more :  From embryo to eighteen - how to survive the education highway

    Further reading

  • 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.

  • Child protection

    If you are preparing to entrust your child to a school – whether day or boarding – you will most likely assume that your child will be safe and that all members of the school's staff will take the greatest care to ensure that this is always the case.The chances are that your expectations will be fulfilled. Unfortunately, in a sad minority of cases that is not what happens.

  • 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.

  • Evaluating careers departments

    What schools teach their pupils ought to be aimed as much at the lives which will follow university as at those dreaded examinations — and the careers department ought to be a strong part of that focus. Undergraduates who started the career decision-making process at school will be likely to make better use of their time at university.

  • Getting the most out of parents’ evenings

    The regular opportunity to speak to your child’s teachers is not to be missed. Nicky Adams offers some pointers on squeezing the most out of parents’ evenings.

  • 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.

  • International study centres

    International study centres are now dotted around the UK in both the most obvious and the least expected places. These centres serve as a means of teaching young people (usually from age 11-16) academic English and introducing them to English culture and English education. The aim of most of these schools is to provide a gentle transition for foreign (non-English-speaking) adolescents into life in an English school, often as boarders, and to prepare them for either A levels or, in some cases, the IB diploma, which then leads to university entry. In some cases GCSEs or IGSCEs are offered alongside intensive English language programmes to facilitate this preparation.

  • 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 £150,000+ 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+.

  • Questions to ask when visiting a school - academic matters

    Don't rely on league tables  - look beyond the headlines. Check-out our detailed analysis of results for English state schools to uncover how well a school does for a child like yours. Whether the most able, least able or Annie Average, what matters is how enthusiastic the school is about teaching and developing a child.

  • Questions to ask when visiting a school - beyond the classroom

    Every school says it has plenty of extracurricular activities, but don’t take their word for it. The only drama on offer might be staff fleeing, when the whistle blows! Academic excellence is important but don't underestimate the value of great pastoral care, trips, sport, music, the arts...and how welcome parents are - or not.

  • Schools and the law: parent power prevails

    When to engage legal help. The vast majority of schools act fairly and provide good pastoral care; it is only occasionally that things go wrong. In those circumstances, it is my task to negotiate a fair settlement with the school, steering the parent away from proceedings, unless that is absolutely necessary. Parents need advice as to whether they have a genuine complaint or not.

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell and Charlotte Church standing. And for some extraordinary - though totally understandable - reason, everyone but us seems blind to our offspring's God-given artistic gifts.

  • Schools in London

    Let our experts help you navigate the capital’s education jungle. Need to find a school in London? There are very many great schools in central and outer London but, with a population of 8.4 million, places at the best schools can be in short supply. Fortunately The Good Schools Guide is on hand to help. We have considerable data on almost all London schools and we have visited, researched and reviewed many of the good independent and state schools in London.

  • Sex and drugs and homesickness

    Given that the majority of boarding school pupils are aged from 13 upwards, some parents might think school fees a small price to pay for letting trained professionals steer their hormonal offspring over the turbulent waters of adolescence. Even so, we all know that risk taking, underage drinking, drugs, sex, self-harm, anorexia and the other ills that teenage flesh is heir to, can occur right under parents’ noses. What then should you expect boarding schools to do to keep young people safe?

  • Starting school

    The first day at school is a large step for both parents and children, even those who have thrived at pre-school and are eager to move up to ‘big school’. So how can you help to make starting school an enjoyable experience?

  • Thank heavens for (strong and clever) little girls…

    GSG writer Elsa Booth ponders the role of schools in fostering gender equality. It was a casual comment, made by my five year old daughter after school one day about a fellow pupil, a boy, which first brought me face to face with the confidence deficit in infant girls. ‘Christopher wants to be prime minister when he grows up’, she said, full of vicarious pride. ‘And you?’ I said, ‘would you like that?’ She laughed it off; that was boys’ terrain. Not something for little girls.

  • The right to see your child’s educational records

    Schools can be cagey in the extreme when it comes to revealing anything which might make them vulnerable to a complaint, including information about your child. So what are your rights in terms of accessing your child’s educational records?

  • 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.

  • Visiting a school - questions for pupils

    If you get the chance, chat to pupils; they are the ones who really know what's happening both inside and outside of the classroom. Try not to ask leading questions; similarly don't ask closed questions, especially if visiting a senior boys' school, otherwise you may elicit little more than a grunt.

    Types of school

    • Alternative Schools
    • Alternative education Steiner-Waldorf philosophy

      Nurturing emotional and cognitive intelligence. Underpinning Steiner-Waldorf education is a belief that children should be enthusiastic about, and enjoy, learning for its own sake; not to pass exams. As a result enquiry and exploration are encouraged. Read more...

    • Alternative education, Montessori - creativity, exploration...

      Pioneered by Maria Montessori 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, the Montessori method concentrates on personal development and progress. Read more...

    • Alternative education, Summerhill - learning for life

      If you really want an alternative education, where children are free to attend lessons or not, Summerhill may be the ticket. A haven for those who find school challenging, but not for the challenged or problem teenager, it emphasises knowing yourself and friendship. Read more...

    • 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...

    • Grammar Schools
    • Finding a state grammar school

      Finding a state grammar school

      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.

      How to find a state grammar school

      Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these 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.

      A 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).

      Do you have to live in a grammar school area? Read more...

      Grammar Schools further reading

    • Grammar school admissions

      State grammar schools are permitted to 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+. 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.

    • Grammar schools - a brief history

      The term grammar school was coined in medieval times, but modern-day state grammar schools came into being as a result of the 1944 Education Act; this made provision for a tripartite system of education, open to all.

    • Grammar schools - best value added

      We examined the value-added from KS2 to GCSE for 2015 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.

    • Grammar Schools - the politics

      Grammar schools continue to divide opinion. Supporters believe a grammar school education gives all children, regardless of social class, a passport to a good education and future. Detractors point out that grammar schools take very few pupils entitled to free school meals, and denounce them as elitist, divisive and damaging to the moral and esteem of children who feel themselves to be failures at the age of 11.

    • State grammar school local authorities

      tate grammar schools are located in the following local authorities:

      Grammar schools in London:

      1. London Borough of Barnet
      2. London Borough of Bexley
      3. London Borough of Bromley
      4. London Borough of Enfield
      5. Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Council
      6. ....
    • Independent Schools
    • 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:

      1. Public schools: historically, the most exclusive – and expensive – of boys’ private (mainly boarding) schools, eg Eton, Harrow and Winchester. Formerly the realm of the upper classes, who are now (with fees topping £30K) joined by offspring of moneyed entrepreneurs, business people and internationals. Now often co-ed, attended by boys and girls aged 13 to 18.
      2. Boarding schools: schools with facilities for pupils to have a home from home on a termly, weekly or flexible basis, often offering superb facilities and a multitude of extracurricular activities. NB most now include a large proportion of day pupils.
      3. Independent schools and private schools: essentially the same thing, ranging from grand public schools and highly selective day schools to tiny local ones and everything in between. The common denominator is that they have no state funding but rely on tuition fees, gifts and endowments.
      4. Prep and pre-prep schools: preparatory/pre-preparatory schools – essentially independent primary schools for children aged 3 to 7/8 (pre-preps), or aged 7 to 11/13  (preps). They prepare pupils for entry to mainly independent secondary schools of all types. Read more...

      Independent Schools further reading

    • Overseas applicant advice

      Boarding schools should be and generally are exceedingly pleased to welcome overseas pupils. Quite apart from bringing the world to Britain, their patronage almost certainly saved a fair few establishments from going under when the financial crisis was at its worst.

    • Preps and Pre-Preps

      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.

    • School fees - credit crunch crisis?

      Getting in and out of financial difficulties, the attitude to bill-paying and money varies hugely - the best schools are wonderful and increasingly flexible about payment terms allowing arrangements such as monthly installments. Bursars are expecting this request from cash-strapped parents, no shame attached.

    • School fees - extras

      While some schools offer a virtually ‘all-inclusive’ package, at others it’s akin to paying for a 5-star hotel then discovering the rate doesn't include the bed, or towels, or hot-water or cleaning...It's not just children who think money grows on trees, judging by the extras added to the bills of a good many fee-paying schools, so do finance committees!

    • School fees, financial assistance, 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • Sussing out boarding

      To board or not to board – is that the question? Traditionally, heartless British parents sent their little darlings off to school at 7 or 8 and didn’t give them another thought until it was time for university. Tom Brown’s schooldays? Go to the bottom of the class. Cold showers, initiation ceremonies and enforced runs are more or less a thing of the past.

    • UK boarding - finding a guardian

      If a child is starting school in the UK and their parents can’t be with them, it makes sense to have another adult in the frame, someone outside their school who can act as a stand-in parent and become a trusted presence in their lives when they need someone to turn to. The people who take on the job are known as guardians.

    • 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
    • Child care 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 wellbeing. Read more...

    • Finding the right nursery school for your child

      Pre-school isn't compulsory and for good reason. Not all parents want their child to attend a pre-school and it will not suit every child. Your child's early years may be spent at home, with you or with a nanny or au-pair. Alternatively, you may decide that time away from home suits you both. Possibilities include child-minder, nursery, kindergarten, creche, pre-school, play-group, pre-prep school, toddler group. 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. The sector is regulated and inspected, though painful headlines haven't completely disappeared. Read more...


    • State Schools
    • A guide to State schools - the right one?

      When it comes to choosing a state school, how do you work out what is hot and what is decidedly not?

      School signpostState 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. Many secondary schools – and 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..

      State schools - the main contenders

      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.

      Over the last 100 years, successive governments have struggled to improve education by reforming its structure, over and over again. What hasn't changed is that in the UK all state schools are entirely free to parents as they are funded through taxation. 

      On this site you will find a wealth of information to help you choose the right school for your child. We have an extensive search facility - simply enter your criteria to locate potential schools.

      School admissions and catchment areas can be tricky. We explain the former and have produced catchment maps showing where children who attend (or have attended) a school come from. See how far they travel and, importantly find out which schools you may be in catchment for, via our Interactive Catchment Area Search and easy to use catchment area maps. Be aware, though, that catchments vary each year. Read more...

      State Schools further reading

    • Appealing for a school place

      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.

    • At the school appeal hearing

      It isn’t compulsory to attend – the panel will consider your case on the documents alone if you don’t – but it would be unwise not to. You can bring a witness or advisor with you, but organise this in good time as you are usually required to give names of those attending a couple of weeks ahead of the hearing.

    • British schools

      Free of charge for your charges? For families resident in the European Union or possessing EU passports, British state schools provide a popular and cost effective means of educating your children in the UK. The majority of schools are day schools but particularly useful are the 36 state boarding schools in the UK which provide for families who can demonstrate a boarding need.

    • Evidence for a school appeal

      You must be able to provide documentary evidence of the claims you make. Request letters from professionals immediately, because they may take two weeks to produce them. If there is a health issue, you need a doctor’s letter. If you want school A over school B owing to its dyslexia provision, you need evidence of your child’s difficulties and the difference in help provided at each school.

    • Grounds for a school appeal

      Places at a school can be granted on appeal in two circumstances: 1) When a school has applied its admissions procedures incorrectly (rare as hens’ teeth), or 2) When the harm done to your child by not getting a place there will be greater than that caused to all the other children by overcrowding (particularly difficult to prove at infant level where class sizes are limited by law to 30).

    • Lodging your school appeal

      You are legally entitled to appeal to all the schools you named on your preference form, or if you got your third choice, for example, you can just appeal to the two you prefer. There’s nothing to lose by appealing to all of them. Hearings take place over a couple of months, so you can always drop out of later ones if you get offered a place you are happy with.

    • Preparing for a school appeal hearing

      You will be sent a document outlining the reasons why your child did not get a place at the school of your choice – essentially, that other children were higher up the priority list according to the school’s admission criteria.

    • Primary school admissions – where do I start?

      Taking that first step into primary school education is crucial for you and your child, but how should you go about making that all important decision as to which junior school is the one?

    • Primary school appeals and admissions

      The first rule of a primary school appeal is to avoid it all costs. That means being clued up about the schools in your area, and applying the right tactics when you fill in the application form.

    • 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.

    • State school admissions - how to secure a place

      School admissions in England are regulated by the Schools Admissions Code, and schools must play fair, ensuring their admissions policy is not only fair but also transparent. Parents must play fair too: schools and local authorities are wising up on parental attempts to circumvent the code, and hundreds of school places are withdrawn every year, sometimes after the child has started school.

    • Still daunted?

      We offer a 30 minute telephone consultation with a highly experienced appeals expert. She will listen to your particular circumstances, suggest ways of approaching your appeal which will optimise your chances of success and give advice on dos and don’ts. She will be frank and realistic and tell you what your chances of success are. Phone 020 3286 6824 or email for The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants, which also offers help and advice to parents on finding a school, selection and admissions.

    • Top tips for secondary school applications.

      October 31st is the date for parents to submit their state secondary school applications to the local authority. A great deal of agonising and soul-searching has been taking place in households across England in the run-up to the deadline but what exactly is the best way to select which schools to put down and how can you avoid the pitfalls which hinder families ever year?

    • Top tips when applying for primary schools

      Parents of children born between 1st September 2013 and 31st August 2014 have until 15th January 2018 to apply for a primary school place for the academic year starting in September this year. Having advised parents of school applications for more than thirty years, The Good Schools Guide recommends the following:

    • What are my chances of success?

      It’s impossible to put a figure on this for secondary schools – though we have heard that on average around 15 per cent succeed overall. It varies enormously between schools and between years. You can ask the local authority for figures for the numbers admitted on appeal each year to schools you are interested in, which will give you some idea.

  • Special Educational Needs

  • Special educational needs
    Some special needs are easy to spot, others are only determined once a child has experienced considerable difficulties, frustrations or social and emotional problems. 

    Young boy studying

    Over the years, diagnosis of and provision for SEN have improved, but both can still be a minefield.

    Identifying different kinds of special educational needs

    Few children fit a condition perfectly – if they do, we tend to say they are a ‘classic’ case. Most will not be straightforward: perhaps a dyslexic with dyspraxia and a touch of ADD, or a child with ASD who also has Down’s syndrome.

    Just as special needs are hard to define, so the perfect provision can be difficult to uncover; having a wheelchair-accessible school does not make it a haven for the wheelchair user.

    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 team helps UK and international families to find schools for children with every condition. Read more

    Click here to sign up for our Special Educational Needs newsletter

    Issue 1:

    • School admissions for children with special needs
      ‘Oh you should try St Elsewhere down the road, they are great for this sort of thing’.  Sound familiar?  If you are subject to these not-so-subtle ploys from schools to discourage you from applying for a place for a child with SEND, you might want to point out that they are breaking the law.  ‘Actions such as encouraging parents to go elsewhere may amount to discrimination,’ says a new briefing document on school admissions for children with SEND, from The Council for Disabled Children
    • New school reviews from our SEN team
      We’ve trodden muddy playing fields, braved school lunches, put heads on the rack, and canvassed our parent moles to bring you our latest school reviews.
    • What do you need to know?
      Our SEN consultants held an information event in November where we spoke on how to find the right school for a child with SEN, alongside talks on behaviour from a clinical psychologist, and on getting your child assessed from an educational psychologist.  Feedback ranged from ‘very useful’ to ‘absolutely amazing’, so we plan to hold a series of seminars on the burning issues for parents of SEN children.
    • Which area is best for SEN?
      Our consultants are frequently asked whether parents would be better off moving to a different area in order to get a local authority which is more clued up about special needs, and doesn’t throw every obstacle in the way of parents, costing everyone - including themselves - more in the long run.
    • Ofsted watch:  Our pick of the new reports
      Star performer: Whitefield Schools, Walthamstow
      Leaps to outstanding (up from inadequate). ‘Excellent training and development’ are behind the improvement. Teaching is ‘highly responsive to pupils’ needs and abilities, and delivers a stimulating curriculum. Sixth formers have ‘innovative and personalised programmes’, which ensure they achieve extremely well. Caters for pupils of 3-19 who have severe or complex SEN and/or disabilities, and communication and interaction difficulties, including autism, across three schools.


    Need help to find the right school for your child?  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 Needs Service

    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?

    • Advice
    • Move house for a special needs diagnosis?

      Parents of children with special educational needs get used to being told to move house. Move to get into the right area for a school which caters for your child’s needs. Move to another county with a less awkward local authority, barristers tell you, is a cheaper route than taking legal action against your own to get the right school place.

    • 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 - asperger's syndrome and autism

      With grateful thanks to the National Autistic Society for their help in compiling this article. All people with autistic spectrum difficulties (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.

    • Behavioural disorders

      Behavioural difficulties are amongst the most challenging and controversial areas of special education facing teachers in UK schools today. Attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorders - AD(H)D, emotional and behavioural and difficulties (EBD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

    • 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.

    • My child is struggling to read - is it dyslexia?

      Reading difficulties can be an indication that a child is dyslexic. What are the signs to look out for in pre-school or primary aged children? How can you test for dyslexia? What can parents do to help children with dyslexia?

    • 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.

    • Helping a dyspraxic child

      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 including Asperger’s syndrome.

    • 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?

    • 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?

      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.

    • Tutoring for children with learning difficulties

      When can a tutor help a child with learning difficulties? And how do you go about finding a tutor with expertise in special needs?

    • 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

      Under the Disability Discrimination Act, appropriate help must be provided by schools and colleges so that children with special educational needs are ‘on a level playing field’ with their peers. Someone with dyspraxia who writes very slowly may qualify for extra time in exams, get help with typing tuition and be permitted to use a laptop in class.

    • Getting an educational psychology 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.

    • 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.

    • 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?

      The process of converting statements to EHC Plans is underway, and there are many tales of local authorities confusing or rushing the 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?

    • 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 or Statement

      How is your school application treated if your child has SEN, but does not have an Education, Care and Health Plan or a Statement? 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?

    • 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?

    • 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 (or elective) 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?

  • 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

  • Common Entrance CE

    Curricula and examsCommon 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.

  • Curricula and exams for the middle years

    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.

  • Exams update

    The revised primary national curriculum started in 2014. English involves more focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar, including mastery of the subjunctive and semi-colons, plus the ability to spell 200 complex words such as controversy, environment, conscience and mischievous, by the end of key stage 2. It also include the use of formal spoken English, to be developed through, eg, poetry reciting.

  • Extended Projects - stretching the able

    With a myriad of courses on offer, plus year on year improvements in pass-rates, it is seemingly harder than ever for savvy, innovative, intellectual students to shine and to take the right path. Developed by The Edexcel Examination Board in conjunction with teachers and academics, students undertaking an extended project qualification can earn up to 70 UCAS points, (just over half an A level).

  • 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.

  • Post 16 curricula and examinations

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • What school league tables do not tell you

    League tables have caused a lot of agony and misunderstanding. As raw statistics, they are more or less meaningless. You will observe, for a start, that results swing wildly according to which newspaper you happen to look at. Among other things they don’t tell you: the pupils’ IQs, school policy, examinations taken or quality of education overall.

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