Image: Bruern Abbey Senior School
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 a UK SEND 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
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. At this co-ed day and senior boarding school, 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 of a UK SEND school – and perfect for a curious child who wants to learn but in a gentle, enormously positive, can-do environment.
Bruern Abbey School
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 Common Entrance finish line. Every pupil has a laptop to use in class, and there’s 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 has now opened a senior school, meaning that boys can stay all the way until 16.
Fairley House School
With its bright, spacious campus in a brilliant central London location, Fairley House is one of the leading special 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 taken in by Frewen College’s gorgeous country-house setting. With a history dating back more than a century, it’s one of the oldest dyslexia-specialist schools in the UK (and quite possibly the world), and the East Sussex campus include the country’s oldest walled garden, a vast arboretum, 60-acres of open space for students to explore, and an additional 100-acres of ancient woodland unfurling beyond. The boarding cohort (which includes a handful of international pupils) get to call a historic Grade II-listed Queen Anne main house their home.
The educational journey at this UK SEND school is broken up into three key stages: the prep school, senior school and sixth form. The sixth form is run in collaboration with nearby Bexhill College, with students spending half of their week there. Class sizes are kept deliberately small – never more than eight students – and highly experienced teaching staff have helped the school win the prestigious ‘Best Dyslexia-Friendly School’ award from the British Dyslexia Association. The school also offers counselling support for those struggling with anxiety, a common issue among students who may have faced challenges at their previous schools. For children facing dyslexia, dyscalculia, speech-and-language challenges or sensory-integration disorders, Frewen College is a brilliant UK SEND school.
Burlington House School
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. Burlington House 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 Burlington House'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 into this top UK special needs school as soon as you can.
More House School, Frensham
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.
Egerton Rothesay is a real one-off, offering pupils highly specialised SEND support within the framework of the mainstream curriculum. Students here are a talented bunch, but need tailored support – and sometimes even therapy sessions – to help them shine. Everyone here has some sort of SEND, ranging from dyslexia and dyspraxia to speech, language and communication difficulties, but it’s worth knowing that this UK SEND school doesn’t support pupils with behavioural difficulties. Thanks to a bespoke programme of strategies and interventions, the school really does work wonders to boost pupils’ overall confidence and academic achievement.
Egerton Rothesay is located in the lovely town of Berkhamsted, with families from 17 different educational authorities in London flocking here. There’s also a school bus service that shuttles students from north London, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and beyond.
In the junior school, teaching is focused on topic-based learning, while senior school pupils take a deep dive into the core subjects. Best of all, Egerton Rothesay is all about flexibility when it comes to exams and qualifications – pupils can pick from GCSEs, BTECs, DiDA diplomas and Foundation Courses, settling on whichever course best suits their interests and learning style.
Riverston Senior School & College
Totally non-selective and with a wonderfully welcoming rolling admissions process, Riverston offers highly specialised support to children with various SEND and communication difficulties, including autism. Outside of normal lessons, pupils work one-on-one or in small groups with an impressive team of learning assistants, counsellors, dyslexia support staff and speech and language therapists, choosing from a wide range of GCSE, A-level and BTEC courses. For those pupils working a few years behind their expected attainment, a parallel curriculum delves into themed projects which might include preparing for adulthood, citizenship or careers.
Plenty of hands-on learning sees pupils sign up for extra-curricular activities including music technology, DofE, karate and trips to London’s art galleries and exhibitions. Everyone takes part in ten minutes of mindfulness each day, overseen by the school’s director of welfare and wellbeing. All this combined makes Riverston a perfect UK SEND school.
Mainstream independent schools
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.
Clayesmore Senior School
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.
King’s College School, Wimbledon
Despite being one of the most academically ambitious senior schools in London, King’s College School, Wimbledon embraces a wonderfully all-inclusive ‘learning enrichment’ philosophy, which means that support is offered to pupils of all ages – whether they need help in the short term with study skills or seek long term support with more specific challenges.
King’s College School sits on a fantastic site backing onto Wimbledon Common, and there’s lots of focus on boosting self-esteem, confidence and motivation with an open-door policy that ensures help is readily available to anyone who may require it. Currently, there are more than 60 pupils with SEND (dyslexia, dyspraxia and ASC); about 15 students benefit from additional specialist support, while more than 50 students receive extra support during their exams.
Co-curricular is a core part of King’s ethos, with over 100 clubs available during lunch and after school. Friday afternoons are taken over by community outreach, when over 300 sixth-formers help with reading, writing, Latin and general mentoring in partner state and special-needs schools – while the rest of the school community takes part in various activities such as gardening, volunteering in a local old people’s home or CCF.
Pastoral care is exemplary too, and there are two part-time counsellors on hand who are doing a fantastic job at making mental health conversations normal. 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 fully embrace the school’s spirit.
Located at the base of the magnificent South Downs, Seaford College is known for its strong outdoorsy ethos. All pupils are screened for SEND when they arrive (out of the school’s 800 or so pupils, over 350 are identified as SEND learners, primarily with conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia). During students’ first term, progress is closely tracked, and parents are kept involved to help identify areas where additional support could be beneficial.
The learning support centre cleverly sits right at the heart of the campus, so it’s just as much as part of the school as any other department. All pupils are offered weekly one-to-one sessions (meticulously scheduled to help minimise any disruption to their core academic timetable). Then there are the bi-weekly Academic Confidence Clinics, offering tailored support to any student looking to reach their full potential. The school takes huge pride in its outstanding tutor system, the bedrock of its hugely nurturing approach to 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.
North London Collegiate School
Hugely vibrant and culturally diverse, North London Collegiate school is led by an incredibly dynamic head and boasts a school bus network on a par with TFL. With expansive, boarding school-like grounds and an on-site junior school for girls from the age of four, it’s a compelling choice for families looking for a single-sex, all-through education.
Teaching here is superb: gentle, inclusive and interactive, with pupils sitting around big circular tables in lessons to encourage discussion and debate. The school supports over 100 pupils with special educational needs including dyslexia and ADHD (some have EHCPs), and ISI inspectors commented that SEND students here make impressive progress, thanks to the personalised support they receive. North London Collegiate School also places a very strong emphasis on student wellbeing, regularly hosting parent workshops that address common teenage concerns such as body image, perfectionism and social media. Tutors meet with students several times a day, ensuring no issues slip through the cracks.
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 SEND pupils fantastic academic support through its dedicated Study Skills Department. Prospective pupils with a recognised special educational need taking the Common Pre-Test are automatically interviewed as part of the selection process (a great way to boost inclusion); anyone joining the school in the fifth form sits the Modis baseline test, and is screened during their first half-term. Continuous monitoring and good communication between the study-skills coordinator and housemasters ensure that all students facing any form of challenge is given the help they need.
We love the controlled informality of lessons, where students are encouraged to talk, debate and spark off each other and mentored by top-tier staff. While lessons end at 4.30pm, the days certainly don’t stop there. There’s an all-consuming boarding-school culture here, including a rich evening programme of house plays, science lectures, piano competitions, guest speakers and more – and the library stays open till 9pm. Undoubtedly a truly wonderful school for an intellectually curious child.
With its Sir Charles Barry-designed castle and 250 acres of Capability Brown Dorset parkland, Canford’s grandeur makes a stonking first impression. And yet, despite its magnificence, the school manages to maintain a relaxed and down-to-earth feel. Canford is a fantastic all-rounder, but it particularly stands out for its exceptional approach to additional-needs support. Literacy skills are assessed upon enrolment – a crucial first step in recognising both pupils’ strengths and weaknesses – and a series of drop-in clinics and support sessions help over 100 pupils with challenges such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, as well as those with EAL needs. Currently, around 30 students receive one-to-one and group support too.
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.
Latymer Upper School
Unassuming yet highly academic, and underpinned by a brilliant school bursary programme, Latymer must be one of London’s most understated seniors – and it’s packed with well-rounded and down-to-earth pupils from all backgrounds. 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.
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.