Special School

A special school is a school catering for students who have special educational needs due to severe learning difficulties, physical disabilities or behavioural problems. Special schools may be specifically designed, staffed and resourced to provide the appropriate special education for children with additional needs. Students attending special schools generally do not attend any classes in mainstream schools.

Special schools provide individualised education, addressing specific needs. Student:teacher ratios are kept low, often 6:1 or lower depending upon the needs of the children. Special schools will also have other facilities for the development of children with special needs, such as soft play areas, sensory rooms, or swimming pools, which are vital for the therapy of certain conditions.

In recent times, places available in special schools are declining as more children with special needs are educated in mainstream schools. There will always be some children, however, whose learning needs are not appropriately met in a regular classroom setting and will require specialised education and resources to provide the level of support they require. An example of a special need that may require the intensive services a special school provides is mental retardation. However this practice is often frowned upon by school districts in the USA in the light of Least Restrictive Environment as mandated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In the United States, an alternative is a special classroom, also called a self-contained classroom, which is a separate room dedicated solely to the education of students with special needs within a larger school that also provides general education. These classrooms are typically staffed by specially trained teachers, who provide specific, individualized instruction to individuals and small groups of students with special needs. Self-contained classrooms, because they are located in a general education school, may have students who remain in the self-contained classroom full time, or students who are included in certain general education classes. In the United States a part-time alternative that is appropriate for some students is sometimes called a resource room.

One of the first special schools in the world was the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, which was founded in 1784. It was the first school in the world to teach blind students. The first school in U.K, for the Deaf was established 1767 in Edinburgh by Thomas Braidwood.

In the 19th Century, people with disabilities and the inhumane conditions where they were supposed to be housed and educated were addressed in the literature of Charles Dickens. Dickens characterized people with severe disabilities as having the same—if not more—compassion and insight in Bleak House and Little Dorrit.

Such attention to the downtrodden conditions of people with disabilities brought with it reforms in Europe including the re-evalutation of special schools. In the United States reform came slower. Throughout the mid half of the 20th century, special schools, termed institutions, were not only acceptable they were encouraged. Students with disabilites were housed with people with mental illness, and little if any education took place.

With the Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997, school districts in the United States began to slowly integrate students with moderate and severe special needs into regular school systems. This changed the form and function of special education services in many school districts and special schools subsequently saw a steady decrease in enrollment as districts weighed the cost per student. It also posed general funding dilemmas to certain local schools and districts, changed how schools view assessments, and formally introduced the concept of inclusion to many educators, students and parents.