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If your child is struggling with literacy or maths in a mainstream school, but her needs would not appear to warrant a full-time specialist school, a learning centre could be the answer. These provide intensive tuition for children with specific learning difficulties, which they can attend part-time, with the rest of the week at their mainstream school.

Sophie Irwin from The Good Schools Guide SEN team rounds up some of the options in London.


The McLeod Centre for Learning

Pimlico, London

Who is it for?

The McLeod Centre for Learning caters for children from 5 – 18 years, with specific learning difficulties and related conditions (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADD, ADHD, ASD and milder physical disabilities). The majority of pupils attend for two or three terms before returning to full-time mainstream school.

What’s on offer?

Morning school, afternoon school, touch typing courses, and holiday courses in touch typing, handwriting, exam preparation, and study skills.

The morning school operates as a halfway house for children who are attending mainstream school but need some specialist teaching. Pupils attend up to four mornings a week dependent on their needs. Each pupil follows an individually-tailored programme, taught on a one-to-one basis or sometimes in a small group. Morning school sessions can include touch typing and occupational therapy alongside literacy and numeracy. Pupils then return to their own school for afternoon classes.

Afternoon school focuses on single subject tuition and exam preparation for 11+, 13+, GCSE and A-levels. Exam tuition is provided by subject specialist teachers.

Touch typing lessons are delivered either one-to-one or in a small group of 4 to 5 pupils. Pupils follow individually tailored typing programmes, however, most start by following the Touch Type Read and Spell programme. A good range of specialist software is also available to help boost spelling, reading, numeracy, study and memory skills. 


Head of the Centre Amanda McLeod is an experienced specialist teacher and handwriting guru. Amanda taught in primary schools for seven years before training to be a specialist teacher and opening the Centre. Ten teachers with specialist training and qualifications and an occupational therapist work part-time at the Centre. Parents comment on Amanda’s deep knowledge of specific learning difficulties and skill at identifying learning needs.

Background and basics

The McLeod Centre opened in 2006 and moved into its current location in Pimlico in 2013. There are four teaching rooms, a touch typing room and a multipurpose room for occupational therapy sessions. The Centre is registered with CReSTeD. 


At some point in their school career many children need some individual or specialist help, The McLeod Centre offers ideal part-time courses and short-term solutions. Parents tell us they often feel great relief once a child starts at the Centre due to the understanding shown to the children and their needs.


Emerson House

Hammersmith, London

Who is it for?

Emerson House is a specialist Learning Centre for children aged 6 -12 years, most of whom are affected by dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and the related conditions. Other pupils may have difficulty gaining numeracy and literacy skills owing to English not being their first language. The Centre is not able to cater for children who have a primary diagnosis of behavioural problems.

Before joining the Centre each pupil has an informal assessment with the founder, Jane Emerson, to identify their needs and to enable the staff to write an individual education programme for them. All the staff work closely with educational psychologists, occupational therapists and other health care professionals who can provide specialist assessments and guidance as required.

What’s on offer?

Courses for literacy, maths, ICT and touch-typing.

The main course, called The Programme, is run as a three hour session each morning or afternoon. Individual programmes might cover literacy, mathematics and touch-typing. Children attend for a minimum of two, and up to eight, sessions per week.  Most attend for half days; a few older pupils and those who travel a long way can attend full days. The teaching is delivered either one-to-one or in pairs of children at similar stages of learning. On average pupils attend The Programme courses for approximately two years before returning to full-time school.

Afternoon clubs for 1.5 hours cover subjects including reading and spelling, mathematics, and phonological skills.  Clubs are for small groups of up to eight children. Touch-typing courses can be taken as one hour courses in the afternoons or on Saturday mornings, or as four day intensive courses in school holidays.


The head of Emerson House Learning Centre is Cathryn Learoyd, an experienced specialist teacher and neurolinguistics practitioner. Cathryn spent 15 years teaching pupils with additional needs at the Dyslexia Teaching Centre in London before joining Emerson House and taking over the reins from Jane in 2014. 

The Centre has a team of experienced literacy, maths and ICT teachers, who work alongside a speech and language therapist, a nutritionist, and specialist computing and touch-typing staff.

Background and basics

The Centre was founded in 1991 by Jane Emerson, a speech therapist and teacher, and the late Dorian Yeo, a maths specialist. Today the Learning Centre is based in a converted church building in a quiet street. Cheerful and cosy learning spaces have been created throughout the premises, decorated with lively colour schemes. This has proved a great hit with pupils, who instantly feel much more relaxed in a non-institutional setting. One younger pupil told us: ‘It’s nice here because it’s more like a house than a school.’


Emerson House is a haven for children who are having difficulties in larger, more conventional school environments. ‘A godsend for both my children,’ commented a parent. The centre aims to restore confidence, and parents often feedback that well-being is taken into account in addition to the specialist care and educational plans.


Unicornmaths Studio

Putney, London

Who is it for?

The Unicornmaths Studio is a teaching centre for children from 5 – 16 years who, for whatever reason, are finding mathematics difficult. Some pupils may have missed out on the foundation stages due to illness, moving schools, or not having English as their first language. Others may have specific language or learning difficulties, or dyscalculia.

What’s on offer?

Individual specialist maths tuition. All teaching is delivered one-to-one to develop the mathematical thinking skills and strategies of each pupil.

The maths tuition is all multisensory and interactive with an emphasis on learning through games, fun and enjoyment. This type of teaching reduces stress and helps pupils to feel positive and regain confidence in their mathematical ability. The approach deliberately avoids repeating the style of work that the children have already failed at in school. Pupils attend the Studio for up to two years of specialist teaching. The studio does not offer specific coaching for common entrance or other entrance exams.


Principal and founder of Unicornmaths is Sarah Wedderburn who worked as a primary school teacher for a number of years before joining the Hornsby International Dyslexia Centre in 1997 to train in special educational needs teaching.  She then spent six years as a tutor and lecturer at the Hornsby Centre before opening her teaching studio.

Four specialist mathematics teachers work at Unicornmaths, including a GCSE maths specialist. Most of the staff including Sarah also work in mainstream schools delivering maths support.

Background and basics

The Unicornmaths Studio was founded in 2004 in Sarah’s house. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, with three learning areas in bright informal rooms. Drinks and snacks on arrival, comfy chairs, a dog and a tortoise help to create a friendly environment. Pupils say it’s nice here because it isn’t like a school and it is okay to say you don’t get it. ‘When you don’t understand the teachers will offer you solutions and alternative ways of working until you do understand,’ reported a teenager.


 ‘My daughter now skips up the pathway and can’t wait to get to the next maths lesson, the change in her self-esteem and confidence has been unbelievable,’ one parent told us. Others tell us Sarah is rather like a Nanny McPhee character, having to tell pupils it’s time to leave as they no longer need her. Parents and pupils were unanimous in their praise for the specialist teaching which not only puts them back on track with mathematics, but also boosts self-esteem and confidence.


Lindamood Bell Learning Centre

Kensington, London

Who is it for?

The Lindamood Bell Centre  caters for pupils aged from 4 with courses designed to develop reading, spelling, comprehension and maths skills.

What’s on offer?

Literacy and maths courses. Particularly popular are the courses for children and young people affected by specific learning difficulties and related conditions (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, APD, ADD, ADHD, ASD). Most students start by attending a course of four to eight weeks, which can take place after school or at weekends.  Some children may come out of mainstream school to attend a full-time course for a term. GCSE, A-level, IB, and university students can take courses to develop more efficient study and exam skills.

Prior to starting a course students have an assessment with a senior member of staff. This measures skills in all areas of literacy, language and maths. The assessment results are then used to identify which courses will be most beneficial to the individual. So depending on whether it’s comprehension and numerical skills, or reading speeds and spelling ability, a consultant teacher will put the correct components into an individual plan. Students are assessed regularly to monitor progress and to update their weekly education plan. Senior centre staff also offer pupil observations in schools and work with SENCos.


The London centre director is Valentina Nikolic, a psychology graduate who started working at Lindamood Bell as a student teacher in her college holidays, working her way up to become centre director in 2014.

Junior teachers must have at least a years’ experience of teaching individual courses before they can apply to train as consultant teachers. Consultants write the individual lesson plans and weekly progress reports for each student, they also meet with parents and carers on a weekly basis to discuss children’s progress. Teacher training is run in-house.

Background and basics

Founders of The Lindamood Bell Programme are Nanci Bell, a reading specialist, and the late Pat Lindamood, a speech therapist. They opened their first teaching centre in 1986 in California, a UK centre opened in London in 2002. The centre is a short walk from Notting Hill Gate tube station and has bright, light, open plan classrooms as well as smaller spaces for 1:1 teaching


Valentina’s and her staff’s enthusiasm rubs off on us all say parents, creating a cheerful and positive feel at the centre. Most parents say their children definitely benefited from the courses and gained confidence in the areas they were working to improve on. One teenager said the best thing is ‘that it’s private; you do not have to keep up with a group or compete in any way’. Parents and staff feel this is motivating for students and works on boosting self-esteem and confidence. 


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