Myth-busting: "Independent schools have no wider impact on society”
As the myth-busting continues, Daniela Szmigielska Shanly, proprietor of Beech Lodge School in Berkshire, writes about her school for young people who are unable to achieve their potential in a conventional school setting.
Independent schools include highly academic, selective schools (although fewer than half are academically selective), those that excel in arts, music or sports provision, and schools providing a wide variety of extra-curricular activities with round-the-clock pastoral care. But this is not the whole picture.
It may interest you to know that some independent schools are special schools, supporting children with special educational needs and disability (SEND). My school, Beech Lodge School, in Berkshire, is one such example. These schools are a lifeline for children with complex learning needs, who may not have access to specialist support in the state sector. In this way, the independent sector increases the capacity and variety of education available nationally.
Independent special schools educate children and young people from all backgrounds and circumstances and account for 65% of all special schools in England. They tend to specialise in one or two areas of learning disability such as autism, mental health or dyslexia, and at Beech Lodge our area of expertise is working with children with emotional and social difficulties. Some of our pupils come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and the majority have been in the care system.
They are certainly not privileged young people or families at all; we have a very diverse mix of pupils at the school. Disability does not discriminate according to wealth or background and neither do independent special schools.
Over 90% of our pupils are placed and funded by their local education authorities (LEAs) via their education, health and care plans (EHCPs) which allow children of all backgrounds to access specialist educational provision that may not be available elsewhere. We work with 12 LEAs in our region.
Very often independent special schools have been set up by individuals at their own cost and effort as a response to a lack of provision in the local area, frequently inspired by their own family circumstances. They offer an educational provision that the state may be unable to provide and are therefore delivering a vital and valuable service to the whole community.