The increasing use of private special schools: A policy gap for inclusive education

Gary Thomas*, Graeme Dobson, Andrew Loxley

*Corresponding author for this work

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There have been significant increases in the number of children sent to non‐maintained special schools in recent years. To assess the extent of this trend and its probable consequences, Freedom of Information requests about spending on private special schools were sent to a stratified sample of 24 local authorities in England. The responses indicated substantial rises in spending recently, with very substantial spending on certain kinds of provision in the private sector—spending of up to £0.3 million per child per annum. We argue that the increasing reliance on private special school placement carries not only potential risks for the education, care and wellbeing of the students placed in often distant schools, with recent evidence of cases of serious neglect and abuse in such schools, but also threats to the development of inclusive practice. Current policy and its associated funding mechanisms incentivise separation and are inimical to the development of inclusive solutions to children's and young people's problems at school. We argue that systems need to be developed which enable the substantial sums currently spent on private special schools to be re‐deployed to cultivate imaginative inclusive responses to the difficulties experienced by some children at school.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Early online date7 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Aug 2023


  • education spending
  • policy
  • special education
  • inclusive education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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