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With the introduction of new accountability measures in secondary education introduced in 2016, the school concentrated on GCSEs before Wild realised this was not the point, ‘The girls need communication skills commensurate with their academic capacity’, so school now develops these, along with interaction, emotional self-regulation and wellbeing...

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What the school says...

Limpsfield Grange School is an outstanding Surrey County Council provision for girls aged 11 -16 with a wide and diverse range of needs. Our students have communication and interaction difficulties that include Autism, Aspergers and speech language and communication difficulties. We also offer places to girls who due to their physical or emotional vulnerabilities would not have the resilience to succeed in a mainstream setting.

We are a residential school where day places are available.

We at Limpsfield Grange believe that 'together we make a difference.'

We work together to ensure that all students develop their resilience, communication, knowledge, independence, self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness so they can be fully active members of society.

We are ambitious for all of our students, and we work with them to help them succeed.

We provide a bespoke approach based on individual needs that maximises potential including a full and rich 24 hour curriculum accredited through GCSEs and entry level certificates.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headteacher

Since 2012 Sarah Wild BA PGCE PDip NPQH late 40s. An alumna of Tiverton High School, before English and Politics at Leicester Polytechnic [now De Montfort University]. A circuitous route through different areas of pedagogy: her cv includes two years’ teaching English in Redbridge, another two teaching deaf students in Essex before she trained as a teacher in deaf education at Birmingham University, becoming head of the Deaf Support Base and assistant headteacher at St Paul’s Way Trust school in Tower Hamlets. A year as head of education at Ovingdean Hall school for the deaf in Brighton [closed] then deputy head at Pendragon school for autism in Lewisham [now Drumbeat]. On her change in specialism, Wild found her skills transferable having been an English teacher and interested in communication. She sees similarities in the journey of the current autistic community to that of deaf people 25 years ago, with signing becoming accepted as different not lesser. Without specific qualifications in autism, Wild talks of having ‘the lived professional experience’.

‘The most common misconception was that girls don’t have autism’ says Wild, who found on arrival in 2012 that 40 per cent of the girls were autistic, leading to the reclassification of Limpsfield Grange from a school for those with emotional and learning difficulties to one for autistic girls. She maintains a robust attitude, ‘The girls need to live in a neurotypical world. Everyone here has a social use and needs to make a contribution’.

With work still to do Sarah Wild has no plans to move. School needs a sixth form, ‘There’s been an explosion in the number of girls diagnosed with autism’ and therefore a pressing need to enlarge in order to accept applicants whose needs the school could meet but currently can’t take from lack of capacity.

Wild sees both the bigger picture, and the detail, ‘The next thing is reframing the debate re what these girls can do, while being unapologetic’. She succeeds with a far smaller budget than independent special schools - the swimming pool is hired out and pupils collect their hens’ eggs for sale. Her strong stance works well with parents: ‘If you’re not firm, my daughter wouldn’t do anything’, one tells us; while another agrees with the head’s structured approach, ‘We need our girls to grow up to become independent.’

Entrance

A special state secondary school offering day and boarding places maintained by Surrey County Council for girls with communication and interaction difficulties, most of whom will be autistic. All have EHCPs and come from mainstream schools, including a couple from special resource bases. Many were not thriving in years 5 and 6 and so arrive with gaps in attainment. Sixty per cent are Surrey residents, with the 24 boarders from Surrey and elsewhere. A good proportion take medication, with 40 per cent having co-morbid diagnoses, for example ADHD.

Two hundred applications per annum received for all years, 65 for the 20 places in year 7. School is operating way over capacity and there’s no waiting list. For year 7 entry contact Surrey SEND admissions, other years contact school.

‘Most local authorities don’t want single-sex schools due to their lack of flexibility’, says Sarah Wild, ‘but for this community it’s exactly what they need.’

Exit

Lack of a sixth form disturbs many parents. Some choose sixth form colleges, others opt for mainstream or specialist schools; none quite fits the bill. One parent expressed concerns that her daughter’s still-developing communication skills will make mainstream too difficult while her academic progress means she is too advanced for the more specialist provision. Meanwhile another family is looking at state sixth form in Guildford with individual support. A third family cited advice to find a place that fits her daughter then to choose subjects for study.

Recent destinations include Boveridge College, Croydon College, Cobham Free School, Hadlow College, Merrist Wood College, NESCOT, Sackville School, Surrey Choices and Unsted Park.

Teaching and learning

A teacher’s average class size is 11 with a Teaching Assistant (TA) present in most lessons but girls are expected to work independently. Subjects include English language and literature, maths, biology, humanities, IT, catering and art. Most pupils are entered for between three and seven qualifications; a few take entry level qualifications. Despite autism being a communication disorder, Wild says the girls do well in English Literature, having strong expressive skills but struggle more with maths because there is a right or wrong answer and this makes them anxious.

The curriculum offers a range of qualifications including GCSEs and entry levels. A parent described her daughter as following the National Curriculum with a practical mix, with pupils going out to NESCOT (North East Surrey College of Technology), Bore Place for sustainable farming, and Surrey Outdoor Learning & Development (SOLD). A few parents thought the list of academic options restrictive.

Questioning a year 11 humanities class on their lesson, we were told, ‘We’re learning about volcanoes with our lovely teacher’, as each located their own volcano and researched its active history. The year 10s were looking at household bills and bank statements, examining credits and debits. While year 9s in English lit were reading Frankenstein, in such a quiet atmosphere, enlivened when one student exclaimed, ‘This was written by a teenage girl!’ and there followed a class discussion on what makes the creature human or not, normal or abnormal, neurotypical or diverse.

One parent, whose daughter had been out of school until able to gain at place in year 8, tells how she was behind in Maths and English, equivalent to mainstream year 4 or 5, yet is now engaged, loves Shakespeare and was last year awarded the English trophy.

On homework Sarah Wild says, ‘I’m a big fan. Autistic people often work for themselves, finding the workplace too social and draining, so they need to learn this life skill – some will struggle but it’s got to be done.’ Homework is not always set in other special schools as parents find children both exhausted and unwilling to accept doing school work at home, making a clear mental divide between the two. However parents here backed the setting of homework, one saying that even though her daughter struggles to complete she agrees with the head, adding that key is school giving the right amount achievable for each child.

Learning support and SEN

There are visual timetables displayed, with staff photographs, and it is pupils’ responsibility to check them. Dyslexia is supported with laptops and speech-recognition software. Wild is clear that she’s preparing girls for the next step and beyond: ‘Personal development, that’s what they’ll take with them, it’s as useful as academics.’ A mum agreed, ‘Qualifications won’t help if you can’t converse, get and keep a job – life skills are more important’. Which is why school introduced the Wellbeing, Achievement, Communication & Independence (WACI) programme, both in class and set as weekly homework.

Social skills are addressed in a three-pronged approach: as and when issues arise throughout the school day so misconceptions can be challenged and understood within the situation; specifically in the WACI programme; and in the residential provision – as all have social and communication difficulties, each learning opportunity useful for everyone.

WACI activities focus on developing self-care skills, for example in hygiene and cooking, independent travel, using money and solving practical problems. A parent, classing her daughter as not academic, said WACI homework has included ‘Can you estimate the cost of Christmas dinner?’, ‘Order a hot chocolate in Costa Coffee’ and, intriguingly, list all the jobs and people involved in producing a pack of supermarket sausages, from the farmer, to the abattoir, butcher, graphic designer for the packaging, transport, etc.

Another parent told of her daughter’s independence passport, which includes understanding facial expressions, road crossing, conversation practise and planning a trip for a group train trip – with the useful instruction to remember to plan to bring them back again.

A mother describes the best thing for her daughter about the school, ‘She was hard to place as not academic and has additional issues which meant she wasn’t succeeding in many areas of her life – now they bake a cake which she brings home with pride, along with certificates she reads to us, “You tried hard”, “You helped your friends”.

The arts and extracurricular

No after-school clubs due to local authority transport collecting but previous school trips include go-karting at an aerodrome, theatre in the west end and to Lewisham police station to meet the mounted police, while a programme of visiting speakers (pre-covid) brought in the poet Rachel Rooney and specialist speakers on autism. A Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme runs and there is an annual trip to the beach at West Wittering and, covid-permitting, a winter ski trip – corridor walls display wonderful photographs of the last one to the Italian alps.

Sport

Swimming weekly for year 7s, with a gala against Moor House school. PE once a week is about fitness, stretching, aerobics; netball is played, though the idea of doing so competitively raised a laugh – the lack of competitiveness suits many of the girls. We asked how it worked during lockdown and parents replied that they wondered if their children would comply when in their home bedrooms but teachers insisted cameras be switched on and that did the trick. A parent whose daughter usually travels by taxi rarely sees her at school so when the pupils were required to sign-in online he could then hear how well teachers dealt with the class and how his daughter became more engaged, describing it as ‘an absolute eye-opener’

Boarders

There are 24 places in a lovely boarding area (which includes a beauty bar). Students can board for a term at a time, four nights per week, unless they have a particular amount of boarding specified on their EHCP. Year 7s can start after Christmas – the smallest bedroom is for three, the largest sleeps six. Detailed visual timetables clearly explain everything needed to know. This facility is not only for pupils living at a distance but also an aid to independent living: learning to cook their own meals and the older girls helped to apply for Saturday jobs, gaining work experience outside school. A parent whose daughter started boarding in year 9 two nights a week thought it was this, in particular, that gave their daughter the confidence to join in, instead of standing on the fringes as before. Another, out-of-borough family, had to go to a SEND tribunal, waiting until year 8 for their daughter to gain a place – she started as a day girl, later staying two nights in school and now in year 11 boards four nights a week, with the local authority paying for boarding rather than the daily hour-long taxi journeys. Boarding activities include making tea, swimming, boxing, board games, sewing, crossfit, jewellery-making and dance.

Ethos and heritage

Mentioned in the Domesday Book, Limpsfield near Oxted in Surrey is a picturebook-pretty village set in the Green Belt just south of the M25 with buildings by Normans, Georgians and the Arts & Crafts movement. School occupies a beautiful country home, previously a manor house, red-brick, tile-hung, half-timbered and mullion-windowed; sitting in 11-acre grounds, it was founded as an Open Air School in 1953, ‘The setting is a protective factor’ says the head, ‘Plus, of course, everyone is autistic.’

With the introduction of new accountability measures in secondary education introduced in 2016, the school concentrated on GCSEs before Wild realised this was not the point, ‘The girls need communication skills commensurate with their academic capacity’, so school now develops these, along with interaction, emotional self-regulation and wellbeing.

Our tour starts near reception, where we pass the much-visited school dog, displaying good temperament. In the grounds are three alpacas, chickens, goats and sheep.

We entered one classroom unexpectedly, just before a lesson due to start, where girls were clustered around the teacher discussing how best to decide, fairly, who would get the first chocolate on offer – as the only one facing the door, the teacher noted our arrival and called her class to order and it was delightful to see how the girls instantly understood, slipping swiftly and quietly into their seats and assuming the poses and airs of model students, while at the same time a ripple of amusement ran round as they recognised they’d been seen in an unplanned moment and were now focussed on showing their school in its best light.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

As to behaviour, Sarah Wild comments, ‘We say to the girls, “You are in charge of your thoughts, like a bus driver, you are in control. If you are having a bad day, knowing how to deal with that is the best thing.” With new pupils in years 7 and 8 we say, “Don’t show us by your behaviour, tell us” and the older girls remind them, “We don’t do it like that here”. We support girls becoming more reflective.’ Sanctions, if work is not completed, involve detentions, such as extra time after school. Wild also implements fixed-term exclusions, usually lasting a day, ‘It’s important if there’s a transgression to acknowledge that’. Permanent exclusions are rare, roughly every three years. Interactions with the animals are used as rewards.

Pastoral support includes having several members of staff trained in mental health first aid and an independent advocate available to residential students. In addition, the Wellbeing strand of the WACI curriculum covers topics such as relationships and sex education, everyday challenges, social skills, understanding emotions, sensory needs and understanding their own needs. Everyone praised WACI’s pastoral support, with one mother describing it as a fount of knowledge not just for her daughter but for herself, citing the teaching of internet awareness and eating sensibly. Another parent said, ‘They are taught how to be supportive and how to sort out friendship difficulties’.
If anxious, Sarah Wild says they work with an individual student as the need arises, so they understand their anxiety, how it manifests physically and what their triggers are. With this and other difficult issues, school has experience of working with a range of professionals in other services to support the girls.

Therapy and staffing

Sadly, NHS therapy supply never meets demand but parents are pleased with the speech and language therapy provided: two days a week each from a therapist and an assistant.
Occupational therapy only half-a-day per week, yet when a parent noticed her daughter’s sensory issues had worsened, she reports school quickly put in place extra strategies such as a change of diet, reduced demands, allocating more time-out and adjusting her curriculum – the changes were small but together they worked, the parent noting school’s attention to detail and willingness not only to listen but to change. Re mental support, Sarah Wild uses the animals with dog and alpaca-walking helping both to calm girls and to teach taking care of them, looking outwards from themselves.

Pupils and parents

Dressed in sensible easy-to-wear uniform of white polo shirt, black skirt or trousers, black shoes, no tie, the girls mingle at break time with bursts of happy laughter. School lunches prepared on site, including a vegetarian option and salad bar, we liked the look of beef lasagne followed by yoghurt Eton mess; a few bring packed lunch.

The best introduction to the girls is found in a video documentary of their experiences, ‘All different, all equal’ which they made to explain and emphasise their individuality, and which was followed up by an ITV documentary. ‘We are not the same as the boys’, they declare. They have also published novels, ‘M is for Autism’ and ‘M in the middle’.

Parents are appreciative of school’s communications: ‘If I email, I receive a response with the hour’; ‘If my daughter has a bad day, I get an email’; ‘They tell me everything!’ A twice termly newsletter keeps parents informed.

Money matters

All pupils have EHCPs, which can also cover boarding costs, but transport is often an issue – a parent told of getting a place but then needing to go to a SEND Tribunal for transport. Some Surrey families share, three girls to a taxi; others found their authorities agreeing to boarding as this reduces transport costs.

The last word

‘If it weren’t for Limpsfield Grange I’d have a school-refuser’, we were told. Several parents recalled past experiences of mornings made wretched by screams followed by struggles dragging a child to primary school, all in the past once they had started at Limpsfield Grange, where their children are now more likely to say, ‘I love my school’. One mum described it as, ‘Like winning the lottery’.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Limpsfield Grange School caters for girls who have communication and interaction difficulties, including autism, and who experience high levels of anxiety.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Interpreting catchment maps

The maps show in colour where the pupils at a school came from*. Red = most pupils to Blue = fewest.

Where the map is not coloured we have no record in the previous three years of any pupils being admitted from that location based on the options chosen.

For help and explanation of our catchment maps see: Catchment maps explained

Further reading

If there are more applicants to a school than it has places for, who gets in is determined by which applicants best fulfil the admissions criteria.

Admissions criteria are often complicated, and may change from year to year. The best source of information is usually the relevant local authority website, but once you have set your sights on a school it is a good idea to ask them how they see things panning out for the year that you are interested in.

Many schools admit children based on distance from the school or a fixed catchment area. For such schools, the cut-off distance will vary from year to year, especially if the school give priority to siblings, and the pattern will be of a central core with outliers (who will mostly be siblings). Schools that admit on the basis of academic or religious selection will have a much more scattered pattern.

*The coloured areas outlined in black are Census Output Areas. These are made up of a group of neighbouring postcodes, which accounts for their odd shapes. These provide an indication, but not a precise map, of the school’s catchment: always refer to local authority and school websites for precise information.

The 'hotter' the colour the more children have been admitted.

Children get into the school from here:

regularly
most years
quite often
infrequently
sometimes, but not in this year


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