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Different types of school placement

This page explains the differences between mainstream schools, integrated resources, and special schools.

Please note that only children with an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHC Plan) will be considered for an integrated resource or special school in Sheffield. Most children, including those with an EHC Plan, have their needs met in a mainstream school.

Last reviewed: 22 March 2022
Information owner: Strategy and Commissioning, People Portfolio

Mainstream schools

What is it?

Most children attend a mainstream school.

This includes many children with special educational needs and disabilities.

What do children learn?

Children are taught the national curriculum. It is adapted for individual children as needed.

A wide range of subjects and GCSEs are offered at secondary school. Sometimes vocational courses are offered alongside GCSEs. Some schools offer A levels.

Who attends?

Most children with special educational needs and disabilities attend a mainstream school.

Children attend who:

  • Are on SEN support

  • Have an EHC Plan

Most children come from their local area

Schools must make reasonable adjustments for all children to accommodate their needs.

Which needs do they meet?

Mainstream schools will aim to meet all types of special educational needs. This includes autism, mental health, and learning difficulties.

How big are the classes?

On average[1]

  • 27 children in a primary school class

  • 22 children in a secondary school class

Children may be taken out of some classes to join small group or 1-2-1 support sessions.

How are children supported?

Children with SEND may have some extra or different learning to meet their needs.

Extra help might include:

  • Individual support from a teaching assistant or support in a group.

  • Extra help with a particular need, such as a speech and language programme.

  • Advice from a visiting specialist who may observe or assess children and their needs. E.g. a speech and language therapist or educational psychologist.

  • Help with health conditions such as managing medication, personal care, or toileting.

What is the environment like?

Mainstream schools are usually bigger and busier than special schools. They have classrooms and small rooms, with areas adapted to meet individual needs.

Schools may have sensory or breakout rooms.

Breakfast and after school clubs

Many mainstream schools have a breakfast and after-school club to provide wraparound childcare.

They also provide other after-school clubs such as sport.


[1] Schools, pupils, and their characteristics, Academic Year 2020/21 – Department for Education.

Integrated Resources (IR)

What is it?

An integrated resource is a specialist unit in a mainstream school. It provides extra support for children with complex needs.

Most children spend:

  • Part of their time learning in an integrated resource.
  • The rest of their time learning in the main school buildings with the other pupils.

The amount of time spent in an integrated resource is different for every child and based on their need.

What do children learn?

Integrated resources are part of mainstream schools where children learn the national curriculum. This is adapted for individual children as needed.

Some integrated resources extend into the sixth form for A levels.

Who attends?

All children attending have an EHC Plan and are placed by the local authority.

Children will only need an integrated resource if a mainstream school is not able to provide the support set out in their EHC Plan.

Children are more likely to travel further from home to attend. Most receive SEN travel support.

Which needs do they meet?

Integrated resources will usually support a certain type of special educational need. For example, severe learning difficulties, hearing impairment, and complex autism.

How big are the classes?

All children are part of a class in the mainstream school.

There will be fewer children in the integrated resource when they spend time in there.

How are children supported?

Support is mostly provided to children in mainstream classes.

Support in integrated resources includes:

  • Small group work
  • Individual (1-2-1) support
  • Advice from a visiting specialist who may observe or assess children and their needs. 

What is the environment like?

As a mainstream school, but also with a dedicated base for the integrated resource. This could include a sensory or breakout room.

Breakfast and after school clubs

Many mainstream schools with an integrated resource have a breakfast and after-school club to provide wraparound childcare.

They also provide other after-school clubs such as sport.

Special schools

What is it?

Schools for children with the most complex needs, that cannot be met in a mainstream school or integrated resource.

Special schools generally specialise in a particular area of need.

What do children learn?

Each school will have a curriculum tailored to the needs of the pupils it supports.

Some focus on teaching life skills.

Most offer fewer opportunities to gain recognised qualifications like GCSEs or vocational courses.

Who attends?

All children attending have an EHC Plan and are placed by the local authority.

Children will only need a special school if a mainstream school or integrated resource is not able to provide the support set out in their EHC Plan.

Children are more likely to travel further from home to attend a special school. Most receive SEN travel support.

Which needs do they meet?

Special schools will usually support a certain type of special educational need. For example, severe learning difficulties, hearing impairment, and complex autism.

How big are the classes?

Class sizes are smaller due to pupils’ needs.

How are children supported?

Special schools support children in many of the same ways that mainstream schools do.

They also have:

  • Higher staff to pupil ratios.
  • School-wide knowledge of more complex needs.
  • More specialist equipment than mainstream schools if needed.

Some schools may also have their own specialists due to the number of children.

What is the environment like?

Special school classrooms tend to be smaller than in mainstream schools. They are likely to have some equipment. For example, hoists for children with physical disabilities.

Breakfast and after school clubs

Most special schools are not able to run breakfast clubs or after-school clubs as most children travel to school on SEN transport.

If you have any concerns

If you have any concerns about how your child’s needs are being met by their current school you can:

  • Talk to their teacher, school SENCO or SEN school governor
  • Contact Sheffield’s SEN and Disability Information, Advice, and Support for advice and support.
Last Updated: 28/04/2022
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