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Which schools are best for ADHD?

Which schools are best for ADHD? As an SEN education consultant, that is a question I am asked frequently. Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a simple list of schools which will have great provision for your child.

Parents dealing with ADHD will be well aware that the condition comes in many different guises, and what works for one child may not be right for another. It’s also an ever-moving feast – a school which has a good track record in working with these children can change overnight when a SENCo or headteacher moves on, or when the SENCo becomes overwhelmed with cases.

It is essential to thoroughly scrutinise any prospective school in the light of your child’s individual presentation. But there are a few general guidelines which can help parents in their school search.

Get a detailed assessment

To best match the provision to your child, it is essential to know exactly what you are dealing with. You will be much better placed with a detailed assessment which quantifies the extent of various ADHD traits your child has; his/her underlying cognitive ability; and whether there are any overlapping issues present such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, auditory processing difficulties, social communication difficulties, etc. This will also detail the provision schools should make, which you can use as a shopping list when you are looking around schools.

Assessments carried out by local authority psychologists are typically scant, and if you can afford it, private ones are much more comprehensive (I can provide names of people who carry out these assessments).

Prioritise the special needs

Parents are conditioned to seek out schools which best match their child’s academic ability. However when your child has SEN, you need to turn this around and look first for the school which can support his/her needs effectively, otherwise that academic potential will never be reached.

Special or mainstream?

The majority of children with ADHD are educated in mainstream. However there are times when special schools can be a better bet, even if your child is academically able. You may need to consider a specialist school if your child has overlapping conditions which would really benefit from the expertise of specialist teaching, or when the child has high levels of anxiety, rock bottom self-esteem, is being bullied, or is school refusing.

There are specialist schools which look every bit like mainstream schools, but can bring the child on leaps and bounds in an environment which understands them better, or can teach them strategies to enable them to return to mainstream. A few of these schools can be self-funded by parents with the means (fees may be twice as much as a standard private school), or for state funding, you need an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) from your local authority.

Are private schools better for ADHD?

Parents often believe that the smaller class sizes and more individual attention of an independent school will benefit their child with ADHD. This can, sometimes, be the case, but it entirely depends on the child’s needs and presentation, and the school in question. Most private schools will look at children with inattentive-type ADD on a case-by-case basis – any behavioural problems will usually mean a rejection. Unlike state schools, private schools are free to pick and choose their pupils and to turn away your child.

What to look for in schools

You need to scrutinise the head and the SENCo - these two people will have an overwhelming impact on the quality of the school’s SEN provision. Do they have a track record in supporting with children with ADHD? What can they tell you about the progress of these children? How are teaching assistants deployed, and have they had any training in ADHD? How do they promote the self-esteem and wellbeing of children with these conditions, who can take an emotional battering every school day? How will they brief and monitor other teaching staff? How will they involve you (and check they won’t over-involve you, expecting you to have all the answers to any problems)? Can you be sure that they understand the condition, and will not discipline your child for behaviours that he/she cannot help?

Should I move my child to another school?

If you are even asking this question, the likelihood is that the answer is yes. If your child is miserable at school, and not making any progress or even regressing, and you can’t seem to make any headway with the school, then your child will always be better off moving elsewhere. I have worked with a number of families where their child’s school report is littered with comments about how their child with ADHD would do better if she only concentrated more – a clear sign that the school really doesn’t get it.

Bernadette John is an education consultant at Schools Advice Service,, which helps to find school places for children with SEN.

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