ERO releases new report on specialist day schools   

For disabled children to thrive in education they require quality teaching and specialist supports, underpinned by strong partnerships and nurturing environments tailored to their specific needs. 

In a review of specialist day schools the Education Review Office (ERO) has found that the quality of education for students at specialist day schools is generally strong and that many of these schools are also playing a critical role as experts in supporting disabled learners in non-specialist school settings.

ERO reviewed all 27 specialist day schools through the course of the past 12 months and found a good quality of education provision across schools, with students experiencing highly adapted and individualised programmes of learning.

Specialist day schools provide education to disabled students with high and very high needs. 

Nine in 10 parents told us they were happy with the quality of their child’s schooling and agreed that their child is learning about things that are important to their child. In addition to this, parents of students in specialist day schools have a clearer picture of their child’s progress.

Demand for special day schools has increased rapidly over the past decade and most specialist day schools report that they have long waitlists. 

In addition to this, we found that many buildings were not suitable to meet the needs of students and that there is inadequate national opportunities to access meaningful professional learning and development for specialist staff.

With no new schools established in over 50 years, growth has largely been accommodated through a network of satellite class provision where the majority of students enrolled in these schools receive their education. 

To realise the potential of specialist day schools, ERO is recommending that work be done to ensure students and their families can access the right education for them.

ERO’s findings show that there is potential for a more joined up approach across specialist day schools given their highly specialist role, and believes that they can play a bigger role in the system in sharing their expertise. 

As a starting point, greater planning around satellite provision and national guidance around the expectations and operation of this provision is desperately needed. 

Work is also needed to improve the suitability of specialist day schools’ properties to ensure that they meet disabled students’ needs. 

In addition to this, ERO is recommending that there is increased support for a national approach in curriculum guidance, assessment tools, and professional development. 

Across agencies we equally need better support for young disabled people transitioning beyond school. All students are entitled to high quality education, whether this is at their local school or a specialist school. Our recommendations have the potential to improve the educational experiences and outcomes of disabled students at both specialist day schools and local schools.  

You can read this summary on ERO's evidence and insights website: Built in, not bolted on - Evaluation of education at specialist day schools (