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Types of education settings

Types of education settings and what they do


All schools are different, the best place to find information about a school is on their website, or by contacting them directly. You can find information about schools in Tower Hamlets (including their websites) on our Local Offer Family Services Directory.

Schools need to make information available about a range of topics, including their behaviour policy, SEND Information Report, and complaints process to name a few.

In this page, we will explain the differences between certain types of schools which pupils can attend, how they are funded and what they should be teaching. More information is available on the National Department for Education website.

Mainstream schools

There are lots of different types of mainstream state funded schools, the most common ones are:

The most common ones are:

  • community schools, which are sometimes called local authority-maintained schools - they are not influenced by business or religious groups and follow the national curriculum.
  • foundation schools and voluntary schools, which are funded by the local authority but have more freedom to change the way they do things - sometimes they are supported by representatives from religious groups.
  • academies and free schools, which are run by not-for-profit academy trusts, are independent from the local authority - they have more freedom to change how they run things and can follow a different curriculum.
  • grammar schools, which can be run by the local authority, a foundation body, or an academy trust - they select their pupils based on academic ability and there is a test to get in. There are no grammar schools in Tower Hamlets.

The Department for Education page about the National Curriculum explains more about what pupils should learn and be tested on in different stages of education. All state mainstream primary and secondary schools must follow the National Curriculum, except for Academies. Academies must teach a broad and balanced curriculum including English, maths, science, religious education, relationships and sex education.

You can find information about what Tower Hamlets expects mainstream schools to usually provide for pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) in our SEND Section.

Resource Provisions or SEND Units in mainstream schools which cater for pupils with SEND are legally considered mainstream education, even if the school day is very different to other pupils at the school or lessons are in a different building.

All Resource Provisions/Units are different. Resource Provisions can sometimes cater to a specific kind of SEND (for example, catering to autistic pupils or for those who are Deaf/hard of hearing). The best place to find out about a particular school’s Resource Provision/Unit is on their website or by asking them directly.

You can find all Tower Hamlets mainstream primary schools and mainstream secondary schools in our Services Directory.

Post-16 Education Settings (i.e. colleges and sixth forms)

You can leave school on the last Friday in June if you'll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. You must then choose whether to:

  • stay in full-time education - for example at school, sixth form college, further education college or University Technical College (UTC)
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering while also doing part-time education or training

The National Careers Service explains what different types of Post-16 providers do, what pupils will study and what qualifications they could achieve. This includes provisions for people with SEND, like supported internships.

You can find Tower Hamlets Post-16 Education Settings in our Services Directory.

Special Schools

Special Schools are schools which specifically provide education for pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND). Special Schools will often cater to a specific area of SEN, but some are more general and cater to pupils with a wide range of needs.

A child can only attend a Special School if they have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). There are some very limited exceptions to this which include attending for a short period to be assessed for an EHCP, if it is in a hospital or following a change in circumstances where the Local Authority, the head teacher of the school, the parents/carers or young person all agree. More information about this is on the IPSEA Website.

All special schools controlled by the Local Authority (any special school that isn’t an academy, a free school or independent) must follow the National Curriculum too. However, they can teach the National Curriculum in line with pupils needs, making reasonable adjustments if needed.

As almost all pupils at Special Schools have an EHCP, what they will learn at school and the support they get will be influenced by what is required in their EHCP. You can find more about what a Special School will generally offer to their pupils on their website.

You can find all Special Schools in Tower Hamlets on our Services Directory.

Alternative Provision

Alternative Provision is education outside of a school setting. Local authorities or schools can arrange Alternative Provision education for young people, who because of exclusion, illness, or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education.

As a child will only attend an Alternative Provision if they are having problems, you can’t apply in the way you apply for other schools. If your child is having problems and you feel Alternative Provision is appropriate, or you have any other issue related to Alternative Provision you can contact the Transition Support Service(or Special Educational Needs Information, Advice and Support Serviceif they have SEND) for advice.

Alternative Provision settings do not have to teach the full National Curriculum, but they should aim to provide a broad and balanced education that covers as much of the curriculum as possible. They should make it a priority to teach English, maths, science, computing, and personal, social and health education (PSHE). More information about what Alternative Provision Settings must do and the law is on the Department for Education website.

Alternative Provision, could be given in lots of different settings, but the most common example is a Pupil-Referral Unit or a PRU. Pupils usually attend a PRU (part time or full time) if they have been excluded, or they are having difficulties with their mental health or behaviour, but there can be other reasons.

Another kind of Alternative Provision is education provided to pupils who are in hospital or are too ill to attend a mainstream school. This can be delivered in lots of different ways, depending on what services the Local Authority funds or the needs of the child. Every local authority has a legal responsibility to arrange education for any child they are responsible for whose illness prevents them from attending school. This education must be full time unless this would not be in a child’s best interests due to their health needs. More information about this is in our Attendance, Illness and Getting to School Section.

You can find more information about Hospital Education on the Department for Health and Social Care website. 

Alternative Provision in Tower Hamlets is generally delivered by London East Alternative Provision (LEAP).

Private or independent schools, including Section 41 Schools

For pupils without an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP), parents can decide to send their child to an independent or private school if they are willing to pay a fee. For pupils with an EHCP, it is very unlikely that a non-SEND specialist independent school will be agreed on an EHCP.

Some independent special schools have been approved by the Secretary of State under section 41 of the Children and Families Act (“CAFA”) 2014 as schools which a parent or young person can request to be named in an EHC plan. This means parents or young people have a right to request this type of school is named in an EHC plan in the same way they can request other kinds of schools.

For all other independent schools, there is no right to request them on the EHCP and these schools can only be named on the EHCP if the school and Local Authority agree. If a non-section 41 independent school refuses to be named on the EHCP, there are no official processes to challenge this decision. More information about this is on the IPSEA website. More information about EHCP processes is in the SEND Section.

On the Department for Education Website, there is a list of all independent schools and colleges for children with special educational needs or disability (SEND), including:

  • Special schools and colleges approved under Section 41 of the Children and Families Act 2014 in England and Wales
  • Independent special schools in England, including non-maintained special schools (NMSS) and those not approved under Section 41


A very small number of pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) receive 'education otherwise than in school" or EOTAS. This means the Local Authority must arrange the special educational support in the EHCP in a place that isn't a school. This will only be agreed if it is not appropriate for the child or young person to attend an education setting.

EOTAS provision is often delivered at the child's home, but it could be somewhere else. 

EOTAS is different than Elective Home Education.

Pupils who receive EOTAS, will likely have complex and unique needs, and the provision they receive should reflect their ECHP. EOTAS provision is different depending on the child or young person and their needs.

More information about EHCPs, Elective Home Education and EOTAS is on the IPSEA website.