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14 new special schools to open

School signThe Government has announced the creation of 14 new special free schools, which will provide an additional 1,100 places for children with SEN. However the Department for Education was unable to tell us when the schools will open.

Schools planned in London include: A 70 place school for children aged 11-19 with social, emotional, and mental health needs in Enfield (Edmonton Academy Trust); a 64 place school for children aged 2-7 with speech, language and communication needs, and social, emotional, and mental health needs in Redbridge (Astrum Multi-Academy Trust); a 150 place school and nursery for pupils aged 2-19 with autism spectrum disorder in Croydon joining existing provision at Orchard Hill College Academy Trust; and a 60-place special free school for children aged 3-16 with communication and interaction needs and social, emotional and mental health needs in Romford.

The latter will be run by Samuel Ward Academy Trust, which will also open a 60-place school for children aged 8-16 with autism spectrum disorder and social, emotional and mental health needs in Ipswich.

In the north, Nexus Multi-Academy Trust will open an additional two schools - one for children aged 5-19 with complex communication and interaction needs, autism spectrum disorder and other social and mental health needs in Doncaster, and a school for children with autism spectrum disorder and social, emotional, and mental health needs in Sheffield; Crewe will gain a school for children aged 4-16 with social, emotional and mental health needs (East Cheshire Youth Achievement Free School Trust); Manchester gets a school for children aged 3-11 with profound and multiple learning difficulties and autism spectrum disorder in Blackley (Prospere Learning Trust); and in Blackpool, Blackburn Central High School and Crosshills Special School will merge and create a 48 place school for children aged 10-16 with social, emotional and mental health needs.

The west of England gains a school for children with severe and complex learning difficulties, including autism spectrum disorder, in Hereford (Barrs Court Academy Trust); while in South Gloucestershire New Siblands School and Culverhill School will merge and open a 122-place special free school for children aged 2-19 with profound and multiple learning difficulties and severe learning difficulties.

South-east openings include a 200-place school for children aged 3-19 with profound and multiple learning difficulties in Bedford (Bedford Inclusive Learning and Training Trust) and a school for children aged 4-16 with autism spectrum disorder and social communication needs in Basingstoke (Catch22 Multi-Academy Trust).

Is your child underestimated?

It’s quite common for parents to feel that professionals underestimate their child’s abilities, and that schools or educational psychologists have got their child wrong. Sometimes this can be explained by the child having aspects of a condition which may only be apparent when they are under the pressure of a classroom and which are not seen at home. And of course assessments can only ever provide a snapshot in time, and a child may perform differently on another day. But while formal assessments might allow for a margin of error, there is always an assumption that they are broadly right.

However a series of research papers looking specifically at children with Rett Syndrome has found that by assessing through means other than IQ tests, these children demonstrate they are much more capable than previously realised. Based on these findings, the researchers say it is ‘necessary to urgently revisit how they are supported and educated’. For instance, when it is presumed that the child is severely intellectually disabled, they usually aren’t exposed to language in the same way as a typically developing child.

There are now growing calls to ‘presume competence’ in people with severe disabilities – that is act on the basis that the child is competent unless there is good evidence to the contrary.

One study using eye gaze with Rett children in Tel Aviv found that almost one-third of the girls had vocabulary in the mild impairment to normal range (where previously they were classed as severely intellectually impaired), while a US study using eye gaze found some children still showed severe impairment, but others were well within the normal range.

The words of Einstein come to mind: ‘Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.’

Read more here:

Rising concerns about SEN provision

Special needs student

The Commons Select Committee on Education has launched an enquiry into support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The enquiry will review the success of the 2014 reforms, which introduced EHCPs.

We expect it won’t make pretty reading, and so it seems do they. Robert Halfon MP, chair of the committee, says: ‘There are rising concerns about the quality and access to SEN provision which the Committee will want to explore in this enquiry. The Committee’s current enquiry into alternative provision has heard considerable evidence that children with special educational needs are disproportionately excluded from school and over-represented in alternative provision. During the course of our quality of apprenticeships and skills training inquiry we’ve also heard that young people with SEN have faced significant barriers in accessing apprenticeships.’

Submissions to the enquiry should be made by Thursday 14 June. The enquiry will cover the assessment of and support for children and young people with SEND; transitions from statements and LDAs to EHCPs; provision for 19-25 year-olds; funding of SEND provision; and co-operation between education, health and social care sectors.

Give your views here:

New school reviews from our SEN team

Easter hunts for our reviewers were all about searching out the notable SEN schools and colleges to bring you this month’s new reviews:

Fosse Way School, Bath

We were particularly impressed with the sixth form enterprise. Their Christmas creations of cushions, plant pots and decorations made more than £1,000. Staff are now planning a stall at Bath market for next year. And a recent sale of homegrown plants and produce made more than £500. They even have their own website to advertise their products and post how-to blogs. Parents report breakthroughs: ‘They also cut his hair weekly which was a terrible phobia. It has taken them six years but he will now have five or 10 snips every Thursday night.’

North Hill House, Frome

Now offers three levels of education. The first offer is for high functioning pupils, the second for those that need more support, and the third caters for more complex needs. The classroom that impressed the most was art. It defies any expectations of autistic-style undecorated walls as it is bursting at the seams with displays and explosions of colour. Some absolutely fantastic creations and very high standards. We saw three older lads happily working on their art, sharing some teenage banter; it was easy to forget this is not a mainstream school.

I Can Dawn House, Mansfield

Some children need certain props, such as a prompt key ring, to keep them focused. It’s part of life at Dawn House, the children are as likely to remind others not to forget their wobble cushion or whatever as staff. More academically able students attend lessons such as English language and English literature at partner mainstream schools, supported by Dawn House staff. One child did maths A level with help from an external tutor who came to the school.

Cambian Wing College, Bournemouth

Developing the mindset for work, especially good attendance and appropriate behaviour, is a priority. One student works at Asda four days each week, attending college one day, and has been offered a job when he leaves. Another has a football coaching job once a week at a local primary school. And a small group of students recently completed a one week placement at the IBM offices in Winchester.

TreeHouse School, London N10

The class teacher (or ‘supervisor’) manages a team of ABA tutors and works in partnership with behaviour analysts, speech and language and occupational therapists so creating a ‘team around the child’ for each student. Teaching always has an eye to transferable life skills, hence the ‘pods’ or egg-like cabins which recreate life-like conditions of office skills and shopping. Looking like a designer UFO has just landed, the freestanding shop pod sits at the edge of the hall, with alluring toys, snacks and a working till visible through the serving hatch. Here the students get to practise real shopping skills, while older students on vocational courses stock shelves or help at the counter. Elsewhere a room has been transformed into a dental clinic, where familiarising sessions with a real dentist’s chair take place.

Read the full reviews on our website

Raising happy autistic children

How to raise a happy autistic child‘Encouraging your child to behave in a non-autistic way will not increase their chances of being happy and successful; being accepted for who they are and supported with the things they find challenging will.’ So says Jessie Hewitson, who has distilled advice from her own struggles to understand and support her autistic son into a newly published book Autism: How to raise a happy autistic child (Orion Spring). The book collates views from academics, doctors, lawyers, therapists, and other parents, and covers seeking and dealing with a diagnosis; parenting an autistic child; making your home more autism friendly; choosing interventions for your child; anxiety and mental health; as well as ‘been there’ advice on dealing with siblings, playdates, and the local authority. Dealing with the latter, she says, is ‘like trying to solve a logic puzzle set by a crazy person’.


Need to know

  • Network Autism has collated articles and resources on how best to help autistic pupils with exams. Find them here:
  • An additional 100 places for children with speech, language and communication needs are being created within five new or expanded centres attached to mainstream schools in the London borough of Newham. There will also be new provision for pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs. This will be based in six ‘flexible learning areas’ in mainstream school classrooms, designed to provide a nurturing environment for up to six pupils on a short stay basis.
  • Phones 4 U boss John Caudwell has pledged £9 million towards a national research and therapy centre for autism, planned to open in Staffordshire in the autumn. He said the Caudwell International Children’s Centre will address the woeful lack of support for families affected by autism in the UK, who are being lost in the system and left to fend for themselves.
  • Charity IPSEA does sterling work in providing free legal advice on education for children and young people with special educational needs/disabilities. It is taking part in the London #legalwalk on 21st May to raise funds and would welcome sponsorship.
  • Children whose academic performance drops during primary school are more likely to be depressed as a teenager, says a study which looked at children doing well in school at age seven, but failing to meet key stage milestones by age 11. Author Sinead Brophy, professor in public health informatics at Swansea University, says depression symptoms may be being missed in primary school children, and that support for emotional and social development in primary school could improve and reduce future mental health problems.

Ofsted watch: Our pick of the new reports

Star performer

Percy Hedley School, Newcastle

Percy Hedley School in Newcastle must be congratulated for keeping at the top of its game. It has now delivered a hat trick of Ofsted outstandings. In the latest inspection, Ofsted found that parents were unequivocally positive about the school’s work. Staff have a deep understanding of pupils’ needs and there are strong, trusting relationships between staff and pupils. ‘This, and the very clear focus on the needs of the individual pupil, has led to a very pupil-focused approach to teaching and learning,’ it says.

Retaining an outstanding ranking:

Brook Green Centre for Learning, Plymouth

Teachers and support staff are diligent in getting the very best out of the pupils in their care. They benefit from having a wide range of high-quality resources. In particular, the design and technology, art and science departments make excellent use of machinery, for example a laser cutter, 3D printer and electronic/robotic equipment. Pupils’ learning experiences are enhanced through external visits and taking part in competitions in which they are successful, for example the ‘Gravity Racer’ (unpowered go-kart racing).

Epinay Business and Enterprise School, Jarrow

The focus on enterprise helps them hone the skills they need when they leave school. The recently appointed headteacher ‘has brought a renewed vigour to the school. He expects nothing less than excellence. The senior team, teachers and other staff have risen to his expectations’. Parents say he has made the school much better. High quality sixth form provision has been added.

Peterhouse School, Southport

Ofsted says parents are unanimous in their support for an ‘amazing school’. Pupils are exceptionally keen to please their teachers as well as to earn Peterhouse points for their behaviour. The school has earned several awards, including for arts and quality in careers standards, and also gained autism accreditation.

Oak Field School and Specialist Sports College, Nottingham

A central part of the school’s approach is to link the pupils’ care and learning needs. So physiotherapists lead sessions in classrooms, and a newly established communication coordinator develops the use of communication aids across the school. The school successfully caters for children with wide ranging abilities –some follow a sensory curriculum, while other pupils are taught to speak French and can read well.

Oakfield House School, Preston

‘Teachers make learning exciting, firing pupils’ imagination and ensuring their full engagement in learning,’ Ofsted says. Year 6 leavers in 2017 had made outstanding progress in reading, writing and mathematics and in a range of other subjects, including art and history. Pupils benefit from highly effective therapies, including animal therapy, and excellent behaviour support.

Hexham Priory School, Hexham

The school’s motto is ‘Never underestimate a child’s ability’. School-based therapists integrate their work into teaching programmes. Fundraising enables all pupils to enjoy regular residential visits. For younger pupils, this starts with an overnight visit, with older pupils attending specialist outdoor education centres to take part in a range of accessible activities, such as canoeing and abseiling.

James Rennie School, Carlisle

Has introduced a new curriculum which more precisely identifies pupils’ needs and abilities, and organises pupils into three learning groups. This is contributing to students making very strong progress. The school has also recently received an award for its work with autistic pupils from The National Autistic Society.

Kingsland Primary School, Wakefield

Year 6 pupils leave school exceptionally well prepared for the next stage of their education, as confident, successful and resilient learners. Communication skills are developed through ‘Communication journeys’ which provide essential information about how best to help pupils develop these skills.

Hillside Special School, Suffolk

The school is a vibrant, happy place where all pupils are interested in their learning. Pupils move confidently around the school and take advantage of most of the different opportunities offered to them. Staff make the most of all chances for learning, including at play, in the lunch hall, and working with specialist staff or visitors.

The Oaks Secondary School, Spennymoor

The curriculum is enriched through numerous educational visits, after-school clubs, residential visits and dance, drama and cultural activities. To support their move to post-school education, employment and training, pupils learn enterprise skills, take part in work experience and work-related learning and develop their key skills in English, mathematics and communication. More pupils who have complex mental health needs are attending the school, and leaders have reviewed the support provided.

Longford Park School, Manchester

In mathematics, leaders have developed an approach to supporting pupils who are sometimes anxious about getting a calculation wrong, to feel comfortable thinking more deeply about what they are learning and being confident to solve mathematical problems. Pupils and parents both enjoy the online ‘reading bug club’, which is an opportunity to read their favourite books electronically. All pupils benefit from a range of therapeutic sessions to help them tackle their anxieties and learn new coping and resilience skills. Longford Park accelerates the progress of pupils and develops their confidence so well that, if appropriate, many are able to return to mainstream schools.

Springhead School, Scarborough

There is a strong culture of mutual respect and community throughout the school. This is evidenced by pupils’ well-mannered behaviour and their concern for one another. Pupils are engaged, make progress and achieve strong outcomes in literacy, numeracy and personal and social independence as a result of the well-planned curriculum, and because staff know pupils well. Leaders took prompt and decisive action when they had concerns about the quality of teaching.

The Rowan School, Sheffield

A wider curriculum offer, GLOW (Great Learning Our Way), allows pupils more independence and choice in their own learning. Parents are overwhelmingly pleased with the school and in the progress they see in their child. One parent spoken to told inspectors that she feels ‘staff have so much knowledge, they are compassionate and flexible’

Cause for concern:

Arbour Vale School, Slough inadequate (down from good)

Avon Park School, Rugby, inadequate (down from good)

Pennine Camphill Community, Wakefield, requires improvement (down from good)

Forthcoming events

Autism: Come and meet our SEN advisors at The Autism Show, London (ExCel, 15 and 16 June). Our consultants will be dispensing advice on schooling on stand A17, and our SEN director will be speaking on finding the right school and then securing a place on Saturday 16 at 1.40pm. The show travels to Birmingham (22 and 23 June) and Manchester (29 and 30 June).

FestABLE: The first ever National Festival ofSpecialist Learning promises workshops and forums alongside activities, music and food. National Star College, Cheltenham, 2 June.

Legal: IPSEA is offering a series of SEND Law training days for parent and carers, which will cover the law on SEND, duties of schools towards children with SEND, and EHC plans. Priced at £65 it will be running in Nottingham (8 May), Cambridge (25 May), Derby (4 June) and London (22 June).

IPSEA also has a course for parents who are faced with a tribunal to appeal the contents of an EHCP or the school named, which will give guidance on constructing your case and preparing effectively for the hearing. London, 18 May, price £49.

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