Special Education in the UK

Information and advice

Special Education in the UK

Special education is provided for children with moderate or severe learning difficulties (e.g. a hearing, speech, or sight impediment, a physical disability or autism) or a behavioural problem, which make attending a mainstream school difficult for the child.

However, whenever possible, children with special education needs (SEN) are educated in mainstream schools, in order to give them the same education as other children. There are around 2,000 SEN schools in the UK (day and boarding schools), most of which are state schools, operated and financed by LEAs.

There are, however, very few special schools and it is estimated that around a third of pupils with special education needs are educated in mainstream schools (although this is often for the social and educational benefit of the child). Some special schools are run privately by voluntary bodies, which may receive a grant from central government for capital expenditure and equipment.

Day-to-day running costs are met by the LEAs for pupils placed in voluntary schools. Some private schools provide education entirely or mainly for children with special education needs and most LEAs provide an educational psychological service for children with behavioural problems.

Some LEAs provide special teaching and facilities for gifted children (those with very high IQs), although there’s little provision for exceptionally talented children. In the past, the only avenue open to most parents was to pay for private tuition or apply for a private school scholarship.

Mensa, the society for gifted and talented children, has established the Mensa Foundation for Gifted Children, which helps to develop the potential of gifted children through special schools and individual counselling. For information, check online at www.mensa.org.uk .

Should you need any extra support concerning special education, consult The Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) website at www.ace-ed.org.uk 

Contact your local LEA for information about special schools in your area or write to the Department for Education and Skills for a list of special schools throughout the UK. There are several books available for parents of children with special needs, including Which? School for Special Needs by Derek Bingham (John Catt Educational).

Further reading

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