All special schools do things differently in order to reach pupils who are less engaged by standard teaching. But some are pioneering. Here’s our pick of the best of them.
Stable futures at Fortune College
It’s not a riding school. Instead horses deliver education to pupils who are difficult to reach through traditional classroom methods. They learn maths and literacy skills by default as they read charts outlining the diet for each individual horse, work out the ratio of forage to hard feed, select ingredients from named sacks, and use the scales to weigh out the correct amount of hay.
They learn to differentiate wet and dry straw - that wet is dark and dry is light - and from this they learn how to sort laundry. Getting soap out of a mane teaches them how to rinse their own hair in the shower. Grooming horses as a team develops their communication and social skills.
Fortune College, part of The Fortune Centre of Riding Therapy, Christchurch, Dorset for pupils aged 16 to 25 with learning difficulties, autism, and mental health needs
Five-star education at Foxes Academy
Foxes Hotel in Minehead gets a rare five-star rating from Trip Advisor reviewers. It’s also the classroom for pupils at Foxes Academy, who deliver highly praised food and hospitality to real paying guests. Its founders thought that with the right care and support, young people with learning difficulties could go on to lead valuable lives, and they were right - nearly 80 per cent of leavers are now in work (when the average for young people with similar conditions is less than 7 per cent).
Students can specialise in food preparation, housekeeping or food service, and gain NVQs. Shifts in the hotel are backed up by lessons in maths, English, ICT, communication skills and living skills, and work placements with 32 businesses. Visiting parents can stay in the hotel, described by one Trip Advisor reviewer as ‘a joy from start to finish, definitely the best hotel we have ever stayed in’.
Foxes Academy, Minehead for 16-25 year-olds with mild and complex needs
The great outdoors at Ochil Tower
Many schools make painstaking efforts to help autistic pupils who cannot tolerate the classroom stay for just a few minutes longer. At Ochil Tower, such pupils are dubbed the ‘outdoor group’ and that’s where all their learning takes place. Once you see it in operation, it makes such blinding sense. They do all their school work in the glorious grounds, with views to snow-capped mountains; science and maths lessons might involve making compost, chopping logs to the right size, and building bird boxes; and they also work on life skills such as laundry, baking, cooking and shopping. It’s a classroom which has no walls, says a parent.
Ochil Tower, Auchterarder for pupils aged 5 to 18 with moderate, severe and complex needs
Freewheeling at Rugeley School
‘I’ve got more chance of pinging to the moon on an elastic band.’ So said one dad when he saw children at this school whirling around on rollerblades, and was told his son would do the same within months. His son is now a proficient blader.
The school incorporates aspects of the Higashi method, which uses rigorous physical activity to reduce anxiety, improve stamina, and establish routines and structure. Higashi found that rollerblading provided a means for autistic youngsters to manage anxiety-inducing sensory stimuli, and at the same time provide enjoyable sensory stimulation. The vast majority of children arrive with behavioural difficulties, and outbursts are often managed by going for a run, cycle or rollerblading session.
Rugeley School, Rugeley for 5-19 year-olds with autism
Greasepaint is the word at Ysgol Maes-y-Coed, Neath
Performing with Only Men Aloud at the Gwyn Hall in Neath, at the Houses of Parliament, and with the cast of Les Miserables in London’s Queens Theatre – it’s all part of the curriculum for pupils at Ysgol Maes-y-Coed. It has a specialism in expressive arts, and has been chosen as a Pioneer School in the field by the Welsh government.
Pupils also compete in the annual Bryncoch Got Talent at the local theatre, and take up work experience placements at the local radio station and arts centre. Thespians take lunch in the school’s own bistro, run by the post-16 pupils, who source supplies from the cash and carry, prep paninis, and run the till.
Ysgol Maes y Coed, Neath, for children from 2 to 19 years with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties, and autistic spectrum disorders
Getting with the program at Bredon
Gloucestershire’s valleys may be more sylvan than silicon, but at the end of Bredon’s long drive you’ll find teenage techies salivating over components and cabling ready to be assembled into bespoke computers. Bredon has its own onsite Cisco Academy, which gives students who enjoy programming and taking apart computers the training for technical jobs, as well as qualifications for higher education courses in engineering and computer science. Pupils can compete for an annual 20 places on an apprenticeship with technology giant Cisco – one ex-pupil won a place, and is now working in Japan.
Pupils who prefer more traditional industries can learn animal and crop husbandry, and farm vehicle maintenance, at the school’s full working farm.
Bredon School, Tewkesbury, independent dyslexia friendly day and boarding school.