The Complete Guide To Special Needs Schools (SEN Schools)

As a parent of a special needs child, you understand the unique challenges and joys that come with nurturing and educating your little one. We are here to provide you with a comprehensive resource that will empower you to make informed decisions regarding your child’s education. In this guide, we will delve into the world of special schools, also known as SEN schools, and explore the diverse range of educational options available for your precious child. Whether your child has a learning disability, developmental delay, sensory impairment, or any other special education need, we are dedicated to equipping you with valuable insights, practical advice, and a deeper understanding of special schools’ inclusive programmes and tailored support systems.

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Table of Contents

What are SEN Schools?

SEN schools, also known as special schools or schools for special educational needs, are educational institutions specifically designed to cater to children with special educational needs (SEN). These schools provide a specialised and inclusive learning environment that supports the diverse needs of students with disabilities or learning difficulties.

The primary goal of SEN schools is to ensure that every child, regardless of their individual challenges, receives an education that is tailored to their unique needs. These schools provide a range of resources, strategies, and support systems to address the specific requirements of each student, allowing them to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

SEN schools provide a team-based approach to education, involving teachers, teaching assistants, therapists, and other professionals who work collaboratively to support each student’s individual needs. In addition to academic support, SEN schools also focus on promoting social skills, emotional well-being, and independent living skills. They create a supportive and inclusive environment where students can develop self-confidence, build relationships, and reach their full potential.

Disabilities and Special Needs in SEN Schools

SEN schools cater to a wide range of disabilities and special educational needs, including but not limited to:

  1. Learning Disabilities: These include conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and specific learning difficulties that affect a child’s ability to acquire and process information.

  2. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD): ASD encompasses a range of developmental disorders that affect social interaction, communication, and behaviour.

  3. Sensory Impairments: This includes visual impairments (such as blindness or low vision) and hearing impairments, where students may require specialised resources and teaching methods.

  4. Physical Disabilities: Students with physical disabilities may require adaptations to physical environments, assistive technology, and support with mobility and access.

  5. Speech and Language Disorders: These encompass a range of conditions that affect a child’s ability to communicate effectively, including speech sound disorders, language processing difficulties, and speech fluency disorders (such as stuttering).

  6. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties: SEN schools may also support students who have emotional and behavioural difficulties, including conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, or conduct disorders.

How to choose an SEN School

When selecting a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school for your child in the UK, you have the right to choose from grant-aided schools, be it mainstream or special. Here are key considerations to help you make an informed decision:

  1. Suitability for your child: Ensure that the chosen school aligns with your child’s age, abilities, skills, and special needs. Each child is unique, and finding a school that caters to their individual requirements is crucial.

  2. Academic criteria: While most schools do not select pupils solely based on ability, it’s essential to check if the school has any academic selection criteria. This information will give you insight into the school’s admission process.

  3. Efficiency in education: Confirm that your child’s presence in the chosen school contributes to efficient education for both them and other children. The goal is to create an inclusive and conducive learning environment.

  4. Resource utilisation: The Education Authority (EA) must ensure that placing your child in the selected school is an efficient use of resources. This ensures that the school has the necessary support and facilities to meet your child’s needs.

  5. Reviewing school policies: Ask to see a school’s policy on special educational needs to understand the support and services they offer. This step helps you gauge if the school can meet your child’s specific requirements.

  6. Visiting schools: Arrange visits to multiple schools to get a firsthand experience of their environment, teaching methods, and overall atmosphere. This will aid you in making a well-informed decision based on your observations.

By considering these factors and exploring various options, you can choose the SEN school that best caters to your child’s unique needs and provides a supportive learning environment.

How many Autistic Students are there?

There are more than 160,000 autistic students in England, according to the School Report 2021 by the National Autistic Society

Autism Special Schools

Here is a list of schools under the UK’s National Autistic Society. Starting as early as prep schools, these schools support children and young people aged from 4 to 22.

  1. Helen Allison School: A positive, friendly school in Kent, supporting autistic children and young people at primary, secondary and post-16 level.
  2. Radlett Lodge School: Specialist education provision in Hertfordshire for children and young people aged 4 to 19 years on the autism spectrum and with associated needs.
  3. Robert Ogden School: A large independent school in South Yorkshire for autistic children and young people aged 5 to 19 years.
  4. Sybil Elgar School: A specialist school on two sites in the Acton and Southall areas of West London, providing education for autistic children and young people aged 4½ to 22 years.

List of Special Schools Near Me

Here are the lists of special schools by location:

Birmingham Special Schools

Cardiff Special Schools

Essex Special Schools

Kent Special Schools

Leicestershire Special Schools

Liverpool Special Schools

Manchester Special Schools

Nottingham Special Schools

Sheffield Special Schools

Surrey Special Schools

Support for Special Educational Needs

Here are a number of groups and organisations who can provide you with advice about special educational needs:

Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs

Supporting children with special educational needs involves a collaborative effort from a diverse team of professionals. Here’s an overview of the key individuals and their roles in providing comprehensive support:

Community Paediatrician:

    • Specialist doctor assessing your child’s needs.
    • Advises on health matters and discusses potential learning problems.
    • Passes on significant concerns to the Education Authority (EA).

Educational Psychologist:

    • Holds a post-graduate qualification in developmental and educational psychology.
    • Provides advice to the EA during your child’s statutory assessment.
    • Offers expertise in understanding educational needs and suggests strategies for support.

Learning Support Teacher:

    • Supports children directly or assists teachers in the school.
    • Employed by the Education Authority to provide targeted assistance.

Occupational Therapist:

    • Assesses, treats, and rehabilitates children with physical, coordination, and processing challenges.
    • Consulted by the designated medical officer during the statutory assessment.


    • Provides assessment and treatment for movement and physical challenges.
    • Consulted by the designated medical officer during the statutory assessment.

Social Worker:

    • Offers support and advice to parents and families.
    • Provides welfare advice during the statutory assessment.

Speech and Language Therapist:

    • Assesses, diagnoses, manages, and treats speech and language problems.
    • Contributes to education plans and offers medical advice during the assessment process.

This multidisciplinary approach ensures that children with special educational needs receive comprehensive and tailored support to help them thrive academically and personally.

Jobs in Special Needs Schools

Special needs schools play a crucial role in providing tailored education and support to children with special educational needs (SEN). These schools require a diverse range of professionals who are passionate about making a positive impact on the lives of these students. Here are some of the key roles you may find in special schools:

  • Special education teachers
  • Teaching assistants
  • Therapists
  • Special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs)
  • Behavioural specialists
  • School administrators

These are just a few examples of the diverse roles within special schools. Other positions may include psychologists, social workers, vocational instructors, and health professionals, depending on the specific needs of the students and the resources available at the school.

Working in a special school requires a strong commitment to supporting students with SEN, patience, empathy, and a collaborative mindset. It can be a highly rewarding career, allowing professionals to make a meaningful difference in the lives of children and contribute to their overall development and success.

Frequently Asked Questions about UK Special Needs Schools

A special school in the UK is an educational institution specifically designed to cater to children with special educational needs (SEN). These schools provide specialised programmes, resources, and support tailored to meet the diverse needs of students with various disabilities or learning difficulties.

Special schools differ from mainstream schools in that they are specifically equipped and staffed to provide targeted support for children with SEN. They offer specialised teaching methods, adapted curriculum, and additional resources to meet the individual needs of each student. Special schools create an environment that fosters inclusivity and provides a supportive atmosphere for students to thrive.

Special schools cater to a wide range of disabilities and special needs, including but not limited to learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, sensory impairments, physical disabilities, speech and language disorders, emotional and behavioral difficulties, and developmental delays. Each special school may focus on specific disabilities or offer a broader range of support.

In some cases, children may transition from a special school to a mainstream school based on their progress and individual needs. Transitioning is typically done through a careful assessment process involving parents, educational professionals, and support services. The decision will be based on what is in the best interest of the child and their ability to access appropriate education and support within a mainstream setting.

To find a suitable special school for your child, start by contacting your local education authority or Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) team. They can provide information on available options, admission processes, and criteria. It is essential to visit prospective schools, meet with staff, and discuss your child’s needs to ensure the school can adequately support their development and education.

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