Expert / 15 February, 2022 / Ellie Thompson
When it comes to finding the right school for a child with SEND, it’s often difficult to know where to begin. The first thing we recommend is to consider and reflect on your child’s experiences at school so far – and to think about what they need and what would help them best.
We advise accessing support from a professional such as an educational psychologist and potentially seeking input from a SENDCo or trusted teacher(s) at your existing school to map out what your child needs practically in class. Ideally, you will have some paperwork from their current school detailing the interventions and support they are currently receiving.
Our experience with SEND learners highlights the importance of ensuring that their interests and skills can be furthered at school – so ideally, it would be helpful for a new school to be able to support these areas, either as academic subjects or clubs, or by having the appropriate facilities for, say, sports, art or design. For secondary schools, it is also vital to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility or appropriate pathways for your child. For example, they may benefit from having a wider choice of subjects or being able to take fewer subjects, so that they can avoid becoming overloaded.
To help you begin your search, we’ve rounded up our pick of the best schools in the UK for children with SEND.
Independent specialist schools are private schools that specialise in supporting learners with particular types of profile/need. These schools can offer support or specialisms that may not be available in the state sector.
Often, independent specialist schools have a defined area of focus and can vary greatly in terms of the types of need they support and the academic pathways they offer. Some consider themselves to be mainstream schools offering more specialist support and others consider themselves to be more specialist in nature and able to offer more therapeutic input than comparable state schools.
In addition, independent schools mostly do not require Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) funding and are accessible to self-paying families, as well as those with EHCP support.
Set in beautiful countryside on the Gloucestershire/Worcestershire border, Bredon has a stellar reputation for helping children with special educational needs such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. Every child here has their own individual pathway through the school; every teacher is dyslexia-trained and class sizes are small. A sizable proportion (around 15 to 20 per cent) of children have no SEND requirements at all, which means children are never made to feel different.
Pupils often arrive here from local private schools after finding them too taxing – here, a real focus on the outdoors (afternoons are reserved for sport and activities, and there’s a school farm) and an equal weighting of success and effort take priority. Most pupils sit GCSEs and A-levels but they can also study for BTECs and vocational courses, which feature fewer final exams and place more emphasis on coursework. A real gem – and perfect for a curious child who wants to learn but in a gentle, enormously positive, can-do environment.
Founded by a heavily dyslexic, anglophile Texan lawyer who decided to turn his home into a school for boys who struggle with learning, Bruern Abbey is unique in that it only accepts pupils with learning difficulties (mainly dyslexia and dyspraxia), aiming to put them back on track and on course for a top senior school (often with a scholarship in tow). We love everything about it: the mischievous joy around the lunch table; the organised chaos; the outdoorsiness – and the fact that every single boy here seems to be having an absolute blast.
Early years concentrate on ‘fixing’ reading and writing skills, while further up the school it’s back to the normal prep-school syllabus with the intention of getting boys over the CE finish line. Every pupil has a laptop to use in class, and there are heaps of visual learning (games of Battleships in maths to help teach coordinates, for example). Pastoral care is, according to one mother, ‘totally out of this world’ – happily, Bruern is set to open a senior school in September 2022, meaning that boys will be able to stay all the way until 16.
With its bright, spacious campus in a brilliant central London location, Fairley House is one of the leading schools in the UK capital for children with specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia and dyspraxia. The key aim here is to help pupils lay solid foundations, with most coming here for two to three years for a much-needed boost, before making the leap back into mainstream education.
At Fairley House, it’s all about studying in a practical, hands-on way, and teachers work alongside speech-and-language and occupational therapists in class to deliver a fully holistic education covering the full range of the national curriculum. Some pupils have fairly complex needs (which might include a medical condition or they may have an EHCP), but it’s worth bearing in mind that the school isn’t able to support autistic children or those with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties such as ADHD.
It’s hard not to be inspired by Frewen College’s gorgeous country-house setting. With roots dating back over 100 years, it claims to be the oldest dyslexia-specialist school in the UK (and quite possibly the world), and its Sussex campus boasts the oldest walled garden in the county, an arboretum, 60 acres for pupils to run around in and a further 100 acres of ancient woodland beyond. There’s a proper home-from-home feel here, and some of the lucky boarders (including a smattering of overseas pupils) bed down in the Queen Anne, Grade II-listed main house.
Offering an all-through education from ages seven to 19, the school is split into three parts: the prep school, senior school and sixth form, which is run in partnership with nearby Bexhill College (sixth-formers spend half their week there). The highly experienced teachers certainly know what they’re doing: a few years ago, Frewen was voted Best Dyslexia-Friendly School by the British Dyslexia Association. Class sizes never creep over eight, and counsellors are on hand to help pupils suffering from anxiety – many arrive here after negative experiences at their previous school. For children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, speech-and-language needs and sensory-integration disorders, this is a very solid choice.
Originally founded by a group of parents and now part of Cavendish Education (Bredon, above, is another Cavendish superstar), this nurturing school helps children with specific learning needs such as dyslexia and dyspraxia realise their academic potential through small class sizes and exemplary pastoral care. The Moat School provides fully integrated speech-and-language and occupational-therapy support, while pastoral care is supported by a team of on-site counsellors.
Children aged nine to 16 learn on a campus just off Fulham Palace Road within touching distance of Bishops Park, which is often used for extracurricular and sporting activities. A slew of recent investment in building and facilities has added a smart new sensory-play area and upgrades to the science facilities, while the recently renovated sixth-form building in Hammersmith has hugely expanded The Moat’s appeal: this pocket of London had been crying out for a dedicated sixth-form provision for those with specific learning needs, and pupils now flock here from over 20 London boroughs (some travelling 15 miles each day) to resit qualifications or work towards A-levels and BTECs. Unsurprisingly, places are in high demand, so if you’ve got your eye on a spot here, it’s worth getting in as soon as you can.
An Ofsted-Outstanding day and boarding school with a nurturing Catholic ethos and a reputation for supporting boys with specific learning and language difficulties, More House has 450 pupils – making it the largest school of its kind in the UK. There’s an on-site learning-development centre for speech-and-language therapy, as well as occupational therapy; most boys have several sessions each week.
Almost everyone stays on for the sixth form, with a choice of A-levels and BTECs (and the opportunity to resit GCSEs if needed). Rather refreshingly, the school is big on encouraging pupils to study what they love (and subject choices are, as a result, wonderfully flexible), and plenty opt to work towards an EPQ, undertaking a personal research project – a huge boost to any UCAS application. Super at building self-confidence, this is a top choice for children who may have struggled elsewhere.
Unique and much sought after, Egerton Rothesay offers highly specialised support – but within the parameters of a mainstream curriculum. Most pupils here are already highly capable but need targeted individual support (and often therapy sessions) to help them really thrive. Everyone here has some sort of SEND, ranging from dyslexia and dyspraxia to speech, language and communication needs (however, the school does not support pupils with behavioural difficulties). Given a bespoke programme of strategies and interventions, pupils soon make leaps and bounds in their attainment.
Egerton Rothesay is in leafy Berkhamsted, and families flock here from 17 local educational authorities in London, with a school-bus service shuttling pupils from north London, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and beyond.
In the junior school, lessons revolve around topic-based learning, while there’s a focus on core subjects for pupils in the senior school. Best of all, there’s real flexibility in the choice of exams and qualifications to suit all learning styles and interests: GCSEs, BTECs, DiDA diplomas and Foundation Courses.
Mainstream independent schools form the majority of the independent sector. They can vary greatly in terms of the specialist support and inclusiveness offered to learners with SEND.
The schools that we rate highly for SEND tend to be transparent about the support that is offered, and some even allocate a specific number of places for SEND learners so that they can ensure that they are well supported, and offer flexibility in the number of GCSE subjects that secondary learners take.
We recommend that parents discuss their child’s needs with schools ahead of joining so that they can be sure that their child is understood and will receive the support that they need.
Selective but aimed at a broad range of abilities, Shiplake College in Henley-on-Thames is known for providing exceptional support for bright pupils with mild learning difficulties. More than 100 pupils here are identified as having SEND, so for those who need it, timetabled sessions in the learning-development department replace Book Club Literacy in Years 7 to 8, a language in Year 9 and one GCSE option subject in Years 10 and 11 (the thinking is that quality of grades is better than quantity of exam subjects), while specialist learning-support teachers can help with speech and language, fine and gross motor skills and even the use of assistive technology to help reinforce auditory and visual skills.
The approach is holistic, so there is plenty of co-curricular, which includes masses of sport, rowing (the school has direct access to its own strip of the Thames), the headmaster’s choir, and a serious outdoor-education timetable that includes archery, canoeing, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking and sailing.
Sandwiched between Blandford Forum and Shaftesbury in dreamy Dorset countryside, co-ed Clayesmore combines academic rigour with a feelgood family vibe. A help-all mentality filters down from the top here. Pupils with SEND (currently more than 100) are offered specialist assessments at the well-regarded Teaching and Learning Centre; based on the outcome, targets are set across the curriculum. There are also specialist learning-support teachers to help with the development of speech, language and motor skills, as well as reinforcing topics where necessary (a best-practice way of helping learners with additional needs). Lots of ‘overlearning’ through games keeps things fun while at the same time strengthening auditory and visual skills.
The sixth form offers A-levels and BTECs (many opt for a mix of both), with the emphasis on helping pupils achieve their individual goals rather than shoehorning them into Oxbridge. The relatively small size of the school and sense of everyone getting stuck in together naturally create a supportive atmosphere, and about 50 per cent of seniors board, with many staying in over weekends to take part in a bumper programme of activities. A place where children of all abilities will thrive.
Despite being one of the most academically ambitious senior schools in London, King’s College School, Wimbledon has a lovely all-inclusive ‘learning enrichment’ ethos, which means that support is offered to pupils of all ages – whether they need help in the short term with study skills or in the long term with a specific difficulty. The school sits on a fantastic site backing onto Wimbledon Common, and there’s lots of focus on boosting self-esteem, confidence and motivation (all key learning factors), with an open-door policy for anyone who needs advice. Currently, there are more than 60 pupils with SEND (dyslexia, dyspraxia and ASC); about 15 receive additional specialist help and more than 50 have extra support during exams.
Co-curricular is a core part of King’s DNA, and more than 100 clubs run at lunchtime and after school. Lessons stop early on Friday afternoons to make way for community outreach, and we’re mightily impressed by the school’s efforts here. Every week, more than 300 sixth-formers help with reading, writing, Latin and general mentoring in partner state and special-needs schools – while everyone else goes off to do gardening, serve tea in a local old people’s home or attend CCF.
Pastoral care is exemplary too, and there are two part-time counsellors on hand who are doing a brilliant job at normalising conversations around mental health. The sheer scale of King’s means there’s an awful lot going on, so this is a place best suited to those who enjoy being busy and are prepared to throw themselves into the broader ethos.
Seaford’s location at the foot of the glorious South Downs means pupils here are encouraged to get outdoors as much as possible, be it taking music lessons outside or signing up for DofE or CCF (which is compulsory in Year 10). All pupils are screened for SEND on entry (more than 350 of the 800 pupils are identified as SEND learners, which mainly includes dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia), and each child’s first term at the school is closely monitored in order to highlight any areas where they could benefit from additional support, with parents heavily involved in all updates and discussions.
Best of all, the learning-support centre sits right at the heart of the campus, so pupils aren’t made to feel different. All are offered one individual session per week, carefully timed to ensure no core academic lessons are missed. There are also bi-weekly Academic Confidence Clinics that are open to everyone, and pupils are stretched and challenged accordingly to help them reach their full potential. A brilliant tutor system forms the bedrock of the school’s pastoral care.
With the history and facilities of a big-guns country boarding school and the global outlook of a London day school (central London is just 12 minutes away by train), Dulwich College is academically selective, with plenty of bright stars on the school roll – but developing pupils’ curiosity takes precedence here over boosting Dulwich’s position in the league tables.
This is a big, global school with a true social mix, and more than 300 pupils are currently identified with SEND. Learning support focuses on those capable of studying the curriculum but who need extra help in fulfilling their potential through, say, improving their reading, spelling and study strategies. Staff are experienced in supporting pupils with dyslexia, dyscalculia and ASC, as well as those who do not have a named diagnosis. All pupils in Year 7 and newcomers in Year 9 are screened for indications of specific learning difficulties, with the results used to assess the level of help required (if any). One-to-one, small groups and in-classroom support are available, while the learning centre can provide topic reinforcement across the curriculum.
One of the most popular co-eds in London, with 12 acres of handsome grounds on the edge of Wandsworth Common, enviable facilities, amazing sport and co-curricular opportunities, inspiring teachers and happy kids – Emanuel School is a tremendous all-rounder. Entry is competitive (the acceptance ratio is rising and families are travelling from further afield to get here), but SEND pupils are well catered for, with three specialist teachers working closely with heads of year and form tutors (there is also a specialist SEND tutor) and sitting in on lessons where needed.
One-to-one and small-group additional learning-support lessons are available, usually during assembly time or in place of a lesson on a rotational basis. These are for pupils with a defined intervention period of, say, six weeks. CAMHS assessments are recommended for those who have a social-communication difficulty or a potential ASC or ADHD profile. There are early-morning spelling and homework clubs for pupils on the learning-support register. And it’s worth noting that the school has experience of supporting learners with difficulties such as glycogen storage disease, colour blindness and ADHD – a wider range than at many other London secondary schools.
High-powered, culturally rich, with a tremendously dynamic head in charge and a coach network to rival TfL: North London Collegiate is a true destination school. Throw in space and grounds worthy of a small boarding school – and an on-site junior school starting at age four – and you’ve got a major player in all-girls, all-through education.
Teaching here is superb: gentle, inclusive (classes remain mixed ability until GCSE) and interactive, with pupils sitting around big circular tables in lessons to encourage discussion and debate. More than 100 pupils are currently identified as having special educational needs or disabilities, including dyslexia and ADHD, all of whom receive specialist support. A small number have an EHCP. ISI inspectors have found that SEND pupils make excellent progress during their time here, with extra help offered either individually or in groups. Pastoral care sits centre stage: regular parent workshops tackle thorny teenage issues such as body image, perfectionism and social media, and girls meet with their tutors several times a day, so nothing slips through the net.
Westminster might be highly selective (one teacher told us she was ‘staggered’ by the quality of what goes on in the classrooms here), but it still offers one-on-one support through its dedicated Study Skills Department to pupils with specific learning difficulties – such as dyslexia or dyspraxia – or an unseen disability or medical condition. Anyone taking the Common Pre-Test who has a recognised special educational need will automatically be interviewed as part of the selection process (a great way to boost inclusion); all those arriving in the fifth form sit the MidYIS baseline test and are also screened during their first half-term. Ongoing monitoring and good communication between the study-skills coordinator and housemasters ensure that anyone struggling is given the help they need.
We love the controlled informality of lessons, where pupils are encouraged to talk, debate and spark off each other; taught how to question and think; and mentored by fun, high-octane staff. Lessons may end at 4.30 pm but days certainly don’t stop there. There’s an all-consuming boarding-school mentality here, with a full evening programme of house plays, science lectures, piano competitions, visiting speakers (recent invitees include Sir Simon Schama) and more – and the library stays open till 9 pm. Undoubtedly a truly wonderful school for an intellectually curious child.
It’s hard not to be blown away by the grandeur of Canford, a Sir Charles Barry-designed castle in the thick of 250 acres of Capability Brown parkland in Dorset. But despite all this magnificence, both school and pupils are unstuffy and flash-free. This is a brilliant all-rounder that looks outside of the bubble, aces exams and turns out wonderfully grounded young men and women with a real awareness of the world around them.
For us, Canford stands out for the nature and structure of its additional-needs provision, which is far more comprehensive than at many schools. Literacy and skills such as freewriting are assessed at entry – something that is so important for identifying strengths as well as weaker academic areas. Drop-in clinics and ad-hoc support across the curriculum encourage pupils to take responsibility for their own learning, and those with SEND (there are about 100 pupils with challenges such as dyslexia and dyspraxia) and EAL are well supported at all levels. Currently, about 30 pupils also receive one-to-one and group support.
With a whopping 1,115 pupils, all-boys Bedford is no secret – yet somehow it still manages to fly under the radar. Results are superb, facilities top-notch, and pupils are level-headed, curious and pretty formidable on the rugby pitch. Days are full-on and fast-paced, with lessons on Saturdays and activities long after classes end, and our pupil guides raved about their ‘hugely dedicated’ teachers – staff seem to really get these boys and stretch them accordingly.
The admissions team is brilliant at helping parents liaise with learning-support staff, who review educational-psychology reports before applications are made in order to determine whether the school can give the assistance required. Worth noting too that learners with SEND tend to show good improvement from their individual starting point here. Bedford offers a tailored approach to SEND, with specific lessons for those with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia. There’s also help for learners for whom English is their second language, and useful one-to-one tuition (not offered in all schools) focused on single subjects but aimed at building up transferable skills such as reading and essay writing.
Unpretentious, highly academic and underpinned by a brilliant bursary programme encapsulating the entire ethos of the school, Latymer must be one of London’s most understated seniors – and it’s packed with rounded and grounded children from all walks of life. High-calibre, inspirational teachers have a lot to do with it: staff are treated like university dons and given protected time to work on research papers or masters’ degrees, and the bespoke, progressive curriculum is designed for tomorrow’s world.
The forward-thinking Academic Mentoring Department supports those with specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia) as well as physical needs (including profound deafness or compromised sight) as they move through the school (there are currently 290 pupils receiving SEND support in both the junior and upper schools). Current thinking on neurosciences and learning styles is channelled into its forward-thinking, creative approach, which focuses on using assistive technology (iPads, laptops and a range of software) to help pupils achieve their best. There are regular talks on mental health, body image and relationships (plus support from three in-house counsellors) – and we love the sound of the annual Wellbeing Week, packed with yoga, visits from therapy dogs and walks along the river, reminding pupils of the importance of slowing down and creating mindful habits.
Article by Talk Education
If you have any questions about SEND or how we can help, please contact our advisory team. We are here to talk, and can help you identify schools that meet your child’s needs, draw up shortlists of potential schools or colleges and help with applications.
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