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  • Limpsfield Grange School
    89 Bluehouse Lane
    Oxted
    Surrey
    RH8 0RZ
  • Head: Mrs Sarah Wild
  • T 01883 713928
  • F 01883 730578
  • E secretary@limpsfi…ange.surrey.sch.uk
  • W www.limpsfield….surrey.sch.uk
  • A special state school for girls aged from 11 to 16 with communication and interaction difficulties including autism, Asperger’s, and speech language and communication difficulties
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Surrey
  • Pupils: 71
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Fees: None
  • Open days: Please see website for details
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted:
    • Latest Overall effectiveness Outstanding 1
      • Outcomes for children and learners Outstanding 1
      • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Outstanding 1
      • Effectiveness of leadership and management Outstanding 1
    • 1 Full inspection 11th December 2013
  • Previous Ofsted grade: Good on 18th November 2010
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report

What says..

Downsides are the scant therapy provision and lack of a sixth form which will leave you looking elsewhere for these. They don’t deal in miracles, but there are astonishing tales of transformation. ‘I feel like I’ve risen from the dead,’ says one girl …

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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 GCSE's and entry level certificates.
...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Self Development at an English Comprehensive School (ELQ Band B)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Religious Studies at an English Comprehensive School (GCSE Short Course)

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headteacher

Since 2012, Sarah Wild (40s). First headship ‘and enjoying it very much’. An ‘epiphany’ moment when she went to a lecture on signing led to her taking a postgraduate degree in deaf education at Birmingham University. Taught English at St Paul’s Way Trust School comprehensive in Tower Hamlets, which had a deaf support base, followed by postings at Ovingdean Hall School for deaf children (now closed) and Pendragon (now Drumbeat) in Lewisham, London, a special school for autism.

Time in mainstream taught her ‘the rigour and expectations around progress for mainstream kids. We have to be as tough as they are,’ she says. ‘Extremely caring and understanding of the girls' difficulties, yet simultaneously has high expectations of them in all aspects of their lives,’ said one parent. She has ‘great clarity of strategic vision and energy,’ said another.

Evangelical about educating the wider world on autism in girls. Our visit crossed paths with an ITV film crew, making a documentary about the school which aired in summer 2015. She has not wished to avert them from less savoury moments in the school day. ‘If it looked too good it would be harmful. Some days have been interesting. But I believe we have a duty to raise awareness of girls with special needs, otherwise people don’t understand them. Autism looks so incredibly different in girls,’ she says.

She also bangs the drum with officialdom, railing about a Department for Education autism strategy which had one sentence in it about girls.

‘These girls are isolated because people think they are a bit weird or naughty. Name five autistic grown up women!’ she challenges. Well, who can. ‘Women feel they can’t say they are autistic. We need to challenge perceptions so that there is more acceptance. These girls are articulate and bright, and I passionately want people to know that,’ she says.

Academic matters

Classrooms are set up very much like mainstream ones – the desks are in rows, the atmosphere is quiet and ordered. But all the teaching is delivered with an autism bent. A year 7 literacy class is considering the characters in a set text, and the motivations for their behaviour. The teacher uses it as an opportunity to probe how people might behave when they are worried about something. In an ICT lesson the girls are learning to use the computer to plan for a Christmas party and to conduct a survey into pupils’ favoured food and entertainment options. The teacher discusses with the girls that what you want may not be what someone else wants.

In a science lesson, the girls are studying Semmelweis’s discovery about the connection between lack of handwashing and infection transmission. Toby the dog is in the corner – dogs are regularly brought into lessons to calm and motivate the girls. One girl is hugging a hot water bottle – it obviously soothes her, so that is fine. Throughout the school there’s an air of letting the girls be, to find their own way to manage anxieties.

A pupil is sitting outside the food tech classroom. They are cooking fishcakes, and she doesn’t like the heat or the smell of fish; no big deal, she’s allowed to sit in the courtyard. And she’s keen to give us her opinion that it’s a great school.

Class sizes are generally around 10; some year groups have one class, others two. There’s a broad ability span – in 2015 one student achieved eight GCSEs with A*-G grades, including 4 A*-C; three gained seven GCSEs and six each achieved six GCSEs. Just under a third achieved at least one GCSE at grades A*-C and 94 per cent gained at least one GCSE at A*-G.

The key stage 3 curriculum follows the national curriculum, plus a course in social use of language in years 7 and 8. At key stage 4, students can take either GCSEs or Entry Level Certificates. The majority will be entered for eight GCSEs. ‘There is no sense of writing children off as not able to achieve; if anything, expectations have sometimes been a little too high, resulting in stressful homework sessions – but better to err in that direction than the other,’ is one parent’s view.

In year 10 those in the lower ability group go to college for one morning per week, studying courses in creative media or floristry. We met one girl returning with a bouquet she had made. She planned to give it to a teacher who she said had helped her with her problems the previous week. Years 10 and 11 both do work experience placements.

The girls have all come from mainstream primaries, or units within mainstream primaries, where in the head’s words they have ‘hung on for dear life. It has been traumatic and they’ve felt very isolated. They’re aware of their difference and feel excluded,’ she says.

But in this setting, the girls belie many of the common perceptions about autism. They are curious and sociable, calling out to ask who we are and why we are visiting. They display immense pride in their achievements. As we enter a classroom with the head, a girl calls out to her: ‘I’ve got something to show you, prepare to be amazed.’

Later as we cross the courtyard, a girl comes rushing out of the classroom, beaming, to show the head the amount of work she has accomplished. ‘She was a school refuser, she had three years out of school, and it has taken a long time just to get her into lessons’ the head explains.

One of the most popular members of staff is the reading dog. This was dreamt up to work on reluctant readers. Once a week the chair of governors brings in her dog, Meggie, who hears the girls read. ‘There are queues of girls who want to read to Meggie,' says Wild. Meanwhile, the chair can subtly ask questions about what they are reading.

Games, options, the arts

‘A constant stream of imaginative social experiences to help the girls develop,’ says one parent. There’s an indoor swimming pool, tennis and badminton on site, and girls are taken to the gym. Much use is made of the 11 acre grounds, with clubs in smallholding and gardening. There are pygmy goats, chickens, ducks and alpacas – these are employed to calm the girls when they are overwhelmed or anxious.

Activities include homework sessions, drama, swimming and gym at the leisure centre, Rainbow Curriculum groups, speech and language focus groups, anxiety focus group, running, tennis, football, dance, dog walking, sports leadership, ridge radio and horse riding.

The extensive grounds at the school are of tremendous importance for children with sensory overload problems, parents say. ‘My daughter struggles with people and any man-made material. When she is very anxious or stressed she needs to find herself as close to nature as possible. At LG, she can easily find a tree to hide in for a few minutes, to gather herself and then return to class,’ said one parent.

Equally important, according to another parent, ‘are the passions of individual staff, for instance the caretaker and his wife who run a remarkable Duke of Edinburgh’s programme’. Girls are introduced to the camping required for this gradually. To deal with their anxieties they have a number of practices, first camping in the dining hall, then camping in a tent in the school grounds, before going on the real camp.

Boarders

Boarding is offered for two or four nights weekly, and about 60 per cent of pupils take up the option to board. If you live in Surrey this will be straightforward, but nigh on impossible if your child is from out of county as she will not have boarding on her statement. Seven homely bedrooms cater for 24 girls, and are upstairs in the manor house.

Care manager Natasha is a perfect mix of big sister and high professionalism. ‘The head of care shows a remarkable grasp of each individual child and is always thinking of ways to tweak the provision to best suit them,’ said one parent. And she’s on hand to advise girls that if they’ve texted a boy 20 times and had no response, it’s time to back off. She has devised treats for good behaviour which include having their nails done or a pampering session. She gets people in to do bra fitting workshops with the girls, as well as a Chelsea coach to give them football training.

There’s a regular disco, held with the boys from nearby Sunnydown School for autism. Natasha brings in beauticians and hairdressers to help the girls get ready, £6 for a hairdo and £3 for nails. Parents are full of praise for the way in which contact with boys and this aspect of the girls’ development is managed.

The Rainbow curriculum – life skills and independence training – is delivered through the boarding provision. It covers aspects such as personal hygiene, travel, money, nutrition, and socialising. Through the programme students learn to manage anxieties and adapt to changes in routine. It also teaches them how to use and apply language in a practical setting – one recent example being when a bus driver asked a girl if she wanted a single, and she began talking about not having a boyfriend.

Background and atmosphere

Drive through Limpsfield village – all tile hung cottages, cutesy post office and bookshop – then turn up the drive, to what is every bit the country prep. No need to turn back, this really is a state school - despite the extensive, wooded grounds, tennis courts, and country manor at its heart. Inside there’s more to make the heart gladden. Reception centred around a grand fireplace, and warmed by inviting shelves of books and teen magazines, and comfy sofas. The atmosphere is buzzy, happy.

Pinch yourself again as you walk into the head’s study – wood panelled, with views across the grounds. All the interior features from this one time private residence are retained and there are lovely window seats with views. These are spots where girls can take time out of lessons if they are having a difficult time, and they are furnished with calm boxes – tubs containing squeezy things, soothing visuals, drawing materials, and cards to communicate feelings. Outside there’s further escape in a sensory garden with rambling tomato vines, scented plants, a fish pond, fountains and sculptures.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

It’s more about preventing meltdowns, or nipping them in the bud, than any heavy discipline. It all seems serene as we walk around, but as we encounter girls out of class the head will ask, ‘Are you having a bad time?’, and you get a sense of what a tinder box it can be.

The understanding of the autistic condition, and the measures to relate to that, are superb. Visual timetables abound, and as well as lesson times these give details on what’s on the menu for lunch, which staff are away that day, whether any of the many visiting dogs are in class today.

Lunchtime is backfilled with activities, such as drawing clubs held in the boarding accommodation. ‘If it’s unstructured then there’s a problem,’ says Wild. Pupils can take food out of the dining room if they find it too noisy or over-stimulating, and no-one is made to eat lunch. ‘If you make it about control it becomes a massive issue. We use a light touch,’ says Wild. If girls will only eat one thing, or food of one colour, they will accommodate that. ‘Bulimia and anorexia are a big problem in the autism community. And we want them to be in the best possible condition for the afternoon lessons,’ says Wild.

Many methods are employed to deal with emotions - yoga, breathing, visualisation techniques; strategies to get them to put issues into perspective – the Big Deal or No Big Deal Card; The Scales of Justice – if this happens what’s an appropriate reaction?; The Ladder - how far up would this incident be? And asking them: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’

Parents particularly praise communication strategies, which enable girls to relate their feelings rather than exploding. ‘My daughter recently experienced a shutdown episode in which she lost her words. She was able to get a notebook and explain in writing what she was experiencing - this is the first time she has been able to communicate at all when she is in this state, and is a credit to the school environment,’ said one parent.

If anxiety is high, girls spend time with the animals. They can do dog walking, or goat walking. The alpacas are skittish and you need to be calm to work with them, so that can motivate girls to wind down enough to spend time with them. ‘For some girls human beings are too tricky, and animals become one of their specialised interests. And through them they understand about responsibility, and caring for someone else,’ says Wild.

Mental health support is crucial in this cohort, Wild says, and high on her agenda is looking into how they can develop that as a school. ‘I want to train staff to be able to provide low level intervention and support, and to develop the resilience curriculum,’ she says. It’s not about a magic wand, but about teaching girls how to manage their lifelong condition. Parents believe they are successful. ‘Her difficulties have not been brushed away, nor have they been eradicated. Indeed, one of the most valuable lessons she is learning is that she will almost certainly always struggle with anxiety, stress and communication difficulties. But she is learning that in spite of that, she can succeed. She can be [name], not merely a girl crippled by autism,’ says a parent.

Pupils and parents

All are verbal but some have limited communication skills as a result of complex autism, delayed receptive language, learning difficulties or auditory processing difficulties. All can read, although some will have reading levels well below their age. Socially it spans the population, with some from wealthy homes but 40 per cent on pupil premium.

Entrance

Best make your mind up for year 7 entry. Beyond that it is very difficult to find a place. All prospective students must have a statement, and should be working at level 2 by the end of key stage 2. Some behavioural difficulties cannot be catered for – those with aggressive behaviour or who are very unpredictable may not be offered a place, owing to the impact on others with significant and debilitating social anxiety.

Exit

Around half of leavers go to mainstream FE colleges such as West Kent College, East Surrey College, Nescot, Brooklands College, and Carshalton College; and half to specialist provision including Manor Green, St Catherine’s (Isle of Wight), and The Fortune Centre (Dorset). Having sixth form provision at the school would be high on many parents’ wish lists.

Therapy and staffing

The only parental criticisms centre on provision of therapies such as speech and language and occupational therapy. These are delivered by external agencies and are out of the school’s control. It’s the usual tale of patchy and inadequate provision familiar to any parent who has sought this help, and it’s the only aspect in which the school falls down against independent schools which can provide this in-house.

Our view

As a single sex school for girls with autism, this provision is rare as hen’s teeth, so if that’s want you want, it’s enough to put it top of your list. The setting is idyllic; the care for and understanding of autistic girls is first rate; and the head manages the combination of being driven and single-minded about what she wants for the school, with running a happy and harmonious staff body. Downsides are the scant therapy provision and lack of sixth form which will leave you looking elsewhere for these. They don’t deal in miracles, but there are astonishing tales of transformation. ‘I feel like I’ve risen from the dead,’ said one girl (in a video the girls made about living with autism - look up Limpsfield Grange Girls with Autism on YouTube). And a parent said, ‘It is truly as though she had been missing, and has now returned. Physically she was home, but she became withdrawn, hugely anxious and lost the personality we had always seen in her. She forgot how to be herself, lost in the dread of navigating the world each day. Since starting LG, she has come back.’

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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
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
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
Not Applicable
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

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