Special schools

Read our guide to special education after a brain injury.

Some children may not be able to return to their mainstream school after an acquired brain injury (ABI). This will usually be because they require a higher level of support than a mainstream school is able to provide.

In these situations, other types of school may need to be considered. If your child has an EHC plan, you can make a request for a non-maintained special school, or for an independent school or independent specialist college.1

A special school may be an option for some children. The advantages are that a special school may offer smaller classes2 and teachers who have specialist knowledge about teaching children with special educational needs.

Therapy may be part of the school day and children will have a curriculum (or programme of study) that has been thought out with their needs in mind.

Choosing any school is a big choice for a family. It may take some time to consider all the options. Some special schools, for instance, might only take children with particular types of special educational needs.1

Even though children with an ABI may be in a class with children who have always had special educational needs3, 4, they may still have difficulties that are similar to those experienced by other children in the class.

For example, a child with an ABI may have a high level of physical disability, and this would be one of the most important things to consider in looking for a suitable school.

In this case, parents might look for a school that had appropriate access, such as ramps, lifts, and wide doorways. They might also look for a school that offered physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy as part of the school day. 

Types of school

Most local authorities can provide a list of a range of maintained and non-maintained special schools, both in their area and around the country.

Maintained schools are those that are funded by the Local Education Authority (LEA).Non-maintained schools are those that are independent from the LEA.

On some occasions, the LEA will pay for a child’s place at one of these schools if it is felt that this is the best school to meet their needs.5 The LEA will see if their own schools (maintained schools) can meet a child’s needs before looking at non-maintained or other residential schooling.

Few schools cater specifically for children with ABI, but they will have experience in a range of complex difficulties that will be similar to ABI.

Making the move to a special school

Moving to another school is always a big change for a child and their family. It is a good idea to arrange a preliminary visit to the school so you can meet the staff and see the children in class. Special schools are normally very open and flexible in their approach and should welcome visits.

Children will be grouped according to age and type of special need, but remember that each child will have their own personalised programme of study.

Parents are encouraged to ask questions on visits and may wish to arrange further meetings to discuss their child’s needs and the arrangements for supporting them.

A key quality in any school is its willingness to work with and listen to parents. A willingness to work with and listen to other professionals inside and outside of the school is also important. It is important that parents share information about their child with the school. Anything parents can tell teachers and staff about your child and their specific needs will be useful to them.

Children’s needs may change

A child’s special educational needs may change over time, meaning that careful monitoring is essential. If a child has an Education, Health and Care plan there will be an annual review meeting at least every year (or more frequently if parents or school decide).That review has to include: working with you and your child, asking you what you think and what you want to happen, and a meeting which you must be invited to. Parents’ views are an essential part of this process.

Are you a teacher?

Did you know that up to one child in every classroom may have an acquired brain injury? With the prevalence of brain injury so high, you are likely to encounter brain injury at some point in your teaching career. Sign up to our free, fast-track session to help you understand ABI and use your professional teaching skills to best meet children’s needs.


  1. Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years (2014). Department for Education and Department of Health. available at:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fi…
  2. Baldwin T, Demellweek C, Rankin P, Carleton F (2006). Cognitive problems. In Appleton R, Baldwin T (Eds.), Management of Brain-injured Children (pp171-222). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Appleton R, Furlong L, Baldwin T (2006). Head (brain) injury rehabilitation team. In Appleton R, Baldwin T (Eds.), Management of Brain-injured Children (pp41-63). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Baldwin T, Demellweek C, Rankin P, Carleton F (2006). Cognitive problems. In Appleton R, Baldwin T (Eds.), Management of Brain-injured Children (pp171-222). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Directgov site. http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/index/your_family/education_index_england… 174 .Williams G (2008). Shattered narratives and the search for meaning: the experience of parents whose child sustained traumatic brain injury, (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Hertfordshire), pp123-130.