Education In India
Institute & University
Special Schools

Special schools make special educational provision for pupils with statements of special educational needs (SEN) whose needs cannot be fully met from within mainstream provision.

Special schools are part of a spectrum of provision for children with SEN. There are three types of special school:

  • Those maintained by the local authority
  • Non-maintained special schools
  • Independent special schools.

Most are maintained schools. In January 2004, there were more than 1,000 maintained special schools (with an average of 80 pupils per school), 70 non-maintained special schools, as well as more than 200 independent schools designated as catering wholly or mainly for children with SEN.

More than 93,000 children attend special schools, just under 2,000 of whom are 'dual registered' - in other words, they spend part of their time also in a mainstream school. Almost all have a statement of special educational needs. The pupil-teacher ratio in special schools is 6.3:1 (this compares to 22.7:1 and 17:1 in maintained primary and secondary schools respectively).

More than half the pupils at special schools have either a moderate learning difficulty (31.5%) or a severe learning difficulty (24%). A further 13.7% have behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Nearly one in ten pupils has an autistic spectrum disorder, while 7% have a profound and multiple learning difficulty, and 6% a physical disability.

A small proportion of children at special schools have speech, language and communication needs (3.4%), a hearing impairment (2%) or a visual impairment (1%). Just over two thirds of children attending special schools are boys, and more than a third of children in special schools are eligible for free school meals (more than twice as many as in mainstream schools). Nearly two-thirds of children in special schools are of secondary school age.

The most common type of special educational needs for which special schools are approved are:

  • Severe learning difficulties
  • Moderate learning difficulties
  • Behaviour, emotional and social difficulties
  • Autistic spectrum disorders

Government policy
In 1997, the Government's green paper Excellence for All Children, signalled its commitment to the principle of inclusion and the need to rethink the role of special schools within that context. The SEN and Disability Act 2001 delivered a stronger right to mainstream education, making it clear that where parents want a mainstream place for their child, everything possible should be done to provide it.

In 2003, the report of a special schools working group proposed that special schools should increasingly cater for the growing population of children with severe and complex special educational needs, and that they should become outward looking centres of expertise that work more collaboratively with mainstream schools.

In 2004, the white paper Removing Barriers to Achievement set out the Government's vision for giving children with special educational needs and disabilities the opportunity to succeed.

The Government wants to break down the divide between mainstream and special schools to create a unified system, where all schools and pupils are included within the wider community of schools. It believes special schools have an important role to play, not only in educating some children directly, but also by sharing their expertise with mainstream schools to support greater inclusion. This will involve promoting greater staff movement across sectors to share expertise and experience in working with children with higher levels of need, and more pupils moving between the sectors, with annual reviews of children's statements being used to consider the scope for dual registration or transition to a mainstream school.

The Government expects the proportion of children educated in special schools to fall as mainstream schools develop the skills and capacity to meet a wider range of needs. A small number of children have such severe and complex needs that they will continue to require special provision, but children with less significant needs - including those with moderate learning difficulties and less severe behavioural, emotional and social difficulties - should be able to have their needs met in a mainstream environment.

What do they do?
Broadly speaking, special schools have the same duties and responsibilities as other schools. They must apply the National Curriculum and carry out its assessment procedures, for example. And like other schools, they need to produce broadly the same range of plans and school polices (eg discipline, sex education). They also have the same duties in relation to child protection, non-discrimination, equality, and so on.

What makes them different is that almost all the pupils will have a statement of SEN. This means special schools have a lower ratio of teaching staff to pupils, and a broader range of other practitioners and support staff to help meet the individual needs of children that have been identified in the statements.

Most admissions to a special school are determined by a statement of SEN. (A small number of pupils may not have a statement when they arrive - for example, those placed there by a local authority while an assessment is carried out, or those placed in an emergency.) Once a special school is named in a statement, the school is under a duty to admit the child. Before naming a school in a statement, the local authority must consult the school (and the home local authority if the special school is maintained by another local authority).

Types of special school
There are three types of special school:

Maintained special schools can be either community or foundation schools (as defined by the Education Act 1998). These are funded by the local authority and are broadly subject to the same legislative provisions as other schools.

Non-maintained special schools (NMSS) are not maintained by the local authority and are approved as special schools under section 342 of the Education Act 1996. They are non-profit making schools run by charitable trusts. NMSS schools are funded primarily through pupil fees charged to local authorities which place children there.

NMSS schools are subject to the provisions set out in the Education (Non-Maintained Special Schools) (England) Regulations 1999, which deal with the initial and continuing conditions for approval by the Secretary of State. These cover such issues as governance, health and safety, welfare, non-profit making status, premises, and so on. Approval may be withdrawn in the event of non-compliance, but the underlying principle of the regulations is that NMSS should be treated in broadly the same way as maintained schools.

Strictly speaking, there is no definition of an independent special school. Independent schools are approved by the Secretary of State under section 347 of the Education Act 1996 as suitable for admission of children with statements of special educational needs. Such schools are subject to the registration procedure for independent schools set out in Part VII of the act.

Independent special schools are wholly funded by pupil fees and can be run on a profit making basis. Most pupils are placed by local authorities, but parents can also meet the cost of a place privately. If an independent school is not approved as suitable for the admission of children with SEN, the Secretary of State has to give his consent before local authorities can place pupils with statements there. Any independent school where at least 50% of its pupils have SEN and 25% have statements is treated as a special school.

In mainstream schools, most funding is based on pupil numbers (with additions for special factors, such as SEN or exceptional premises-related costs for schools on split sites, for example). The funding arrangements for special schools vary, but funding is usually related to a set number of places with the individual place cost determined by the complexity of learning needs that the school has to address. Local authorities will review the place formula annually, but by funding special schools on a place basis, local authorities guarantee their funding even if the pupil intake varies.