Circular 11/61 (1961)

This Ministry of Education circular reviewed some of the ways in which special education could be arranged for 'educationally sub-normal' pupils and the progress which was being made in providing extra special school places.

The text of Circular 11/61 was prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 17 March 2021.

Circular 11/61 (1961)
Special educational treatment for educationally sub-normal pupils

Ministry of Education
London: 1961
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

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Circular 11/61
(3rd July 1961)

To: Local Education Authorities

All communications should be
addressed to THE SECRETARY


Curzon Street


1. The Handicapped Pupils and Special Schools Regulations 1959 (S.I. 1959 No. 365) define educationally sub-normal pupils as "pupils who, by reason of limited ability or other conditions resulting in educational retardation, require some specialised form of education wholly or partly in substitution for the education normally given in ordinary schools". The definition thus includes those who are temporarily retarded as well as the innately dull; it includes pupils of limited ability who may suitably receive some or all of their special education in ordinary schools as well as those who need to attend special schools. The purpose of this circular is to review some of the ways in which special education can be arranged for them and the progress which is being made in providing extra special school places.

2. Local education authorities have the duty to ascertain which children require special educational treatment. The Minister welcomes the evidence that this is being done more widely without recourse to the formal procedure set out in Section 34 of the Act. Although it is generally realised that this procedure can be dispensed with in making special arrangements for a child in an ordinary school, it is not always appreciated that there is no obligation in law to

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arrange a medical examination or to have a formal decision of the authority before arranging for admission to a special school, if the parent agrees to this. There need, that is, be no formality about the offer of a place in a special school if the child needs it or about his admission if the parents accept such an offer, although it is essential to ensure that the parents know that the minimum leaving age from a special school is sixteen. Nevertheless, a medical examination will normally be desirable in order to ensure, for instance, that the child's retardation is not due to unsuspected physical or sensory defects. It will be advisable in arranging such an examination to explain its purpose to the parents and that it is being held under Section 34(1) of the Education Act 1944, and to give them due notice of the time and place of the examination and their right to be present, as prescribed in Section 34(3), in order to avoid any question of the validity of the examination if a change of mind on the part of the parents should later make it necessary to enforce attendance. Any medical examination should be conducted by a medical practitioner satisfying the requirements prescribed in the Medical Examinations (Sub-normal Children) Regulations, 1959 (S.I. 1959 No. 336).

3. Information from parents, family doctors, the child welfare service or elsewhere may bring mental retardation to light at an early stage. Frequently, however, educational subnormality is not apparent until a child attends school, and teachers and school medical officers will often be the first to detect it. It is important for teachers to ensure that evidence of backwardness of any kind is brought to the notice of the school medical officer as soon as possible, as this may be due to, or accentuated by, some disability, such as a defect of hearing or emotional disturbance, which is susceptible to treatment. The school psychological service has an important part to play in helping backward children, and teachers should not hesitate to seek the assistance of the educational psychologist when considering what should be done for a child who is backward in class.

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Ordinary Schools

4. It is possible to give the majority of backward pupils suitable education in ordinary schools and they will gain by remaining with other children of their own ages. The first attempt to meet the needs of educationally subnormal pupils should, therefore, be to consider what can be done for them in the schools which they would normally attend. Most schools contain a few pupils who are so markedly backward as to need individual help. Sometimes these children are taught together in small classes, each of one or two age groups, by teachers interested in their particular problems. Special classes under teachers who have attended courses on the teaching of backward children are likely to become a regular feature of the organisation of some schools. Pupils who are temporarily retarded for any reason, for example through illness, will often be able to take their places in normal classes after receiving special tuition which should be given in the child's own school, if practicable.

5. It is not to be expected that so long as the present shortage of teachers continues many schools will be able to make fully satisfactory arrangements for their own backward pupils. Those schools which try to do what ever is possible deserve the encouragement and help of the authority by means of advice and sympathetic consideration of their staffing needs. The Minister has always been prepared within reasonable limits to take into account the need for special classes for handicapped children when fixing the quota of teachers for each authority.

6. There are many schools where suitable arrangements for backward pupils cannot conveniently be made, and to help these local education authorities may decide to take other steps, including any of the following:

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(a) The provision of special classes at selected schools to cater for children drawn from an area wider than that normally covered by the school.

(b) The employment of suitable peripatetic teachers to advise and assist ordinary schools to provide special educational treatment.

(c) The establishment of remedial classes or centres to help children who are temporarily retarded to reach the state at which they can with confidence return to normal classes.

(d) The establishment of diagnostic centres, especially for very young children who appear to be exceptionally handicapped, to help the authority to determine the best form of treatment for each child.

7. Special classes or units should be smaller than normal classes. Regulation 20 of the Schools Regulations 1959 (S.I. 1959 No. 364) applies the same limits to the size of special classes for handicapped pupils in ordinary schools as to classes in special schools. The limit of 20 for the educationally sub-normal is a maximum, not an optimum figure.

8. If backward children are taught in small classes and if they are withdrawn from ordinary classes for special teaching during part of the week, more separate teaching rooms than usual are needed, including one or more rooms for small groups. It should be possible to provide for these, within the current cost limits, when planning the total teaching accommodation of new schools. In building projects to bring existing schools up to standard it should also be possible to ensure that suitable rooms are made available. Where special classes are intended to serve an area wider than that from which a school normally recruits, these should be allowed for in estimating the number of pupils for whom

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the school is to provide when the proposal is first put forward. On occasion an Authority might consider that a separate minor works project is justified in order to provide the accommodation required at an existing school.

9. The information available to the Minister shows that in recent years local education authorities and teachers have displayed much interest in making special arrangements in ordinary schools for educationally sub-normal children.

It is hoped that the easing of pressure on accommodation, in the first instance in primary schools, will make further improvements possible.

Special Schools

10. There are some children who, on account of their limited ability or for other reasons, cannot be educated satisfactorily in ordinary schools, even when special arrangements are made for them. These children need places in special schools where they can gain confidence and progress at their own pace. They should be sent to a day special school unless there are special reasons for sending them to a boarding school; backwardness by itself is not a good reason for removing a child from his normal home surroundings. The provision of boarding education for sub-normal pupils, in addition to being costly, may create problems of adjustment to home and working life later.

Day Special Schools

11. The larger county boroughs almost all have day special schools, some of them of very old foundation. They should consider whether the provision is adequate and by modern standards satisfactory. In most counties and small county boroughs the size of day special schools is limited by the number of pupils needing places who are within daily travelling distance. Where the total requirement for juniors and seniors is only five classes, an all-age school,

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with three classes of seniors, is the normal solution. The provision of suitable education for senior boys and girls often presents difficulty in such a school.

12. A larger number of classes makes the organisation of the school easier and gives opportunities for varied activities and progression. In the most densely populated areas separate junior and senior schools are possible, but these are not necessarily to be preferred to all-age schools owing to the disturbing effect which transfer from school to school frequently has on backward children.

13. Day special schools cannot usually be provided for children in sparsely populated counties. Experience has, however, shown that in many of the more closely populated rural areas enough children to justify the establishment of a day special school live within reasonable travelling distance of carefully selected centres; and that, even where there are too few within daily travelling distance, the boarding of some children from further afield in a combined day and boarding school can bring numbers up to the minimum desirable for good school organisation. Some of the boarders may be able to go home at weekends. Authorities will probably find it preferable to have a resident head teacher in charge of the boarding as well as the teaching in such a school.

Boarding Special Schools and Boarding Homes

14. Boarding schools or boarding homes are required for a small minority whose special educational treatment needs to extend to their life outside the classroom, for children whose home environment is such that they are unlikely to make good progress unless removed from it and for those who do not live within reach of a day school. Contact between parents, children and boarding schools and homes should be encouraged, and will be made easier if the school selected for a child is not too far from his home.

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Educationally sub-normal pupils who are also Maladjusted

15. The educationally sub-normal who are also maladjusted and whose behaviour has already led or may lead them into trouble, need particular attention. It is important that they should be given special education early in their school life when they are likely to derive most benefit from it. Local education authorities are responsible for selecting suitable schools for them and they are asked to ensure that adequate day and boarding provision is made in schools or homes. Some of these pupils will need places in special schools for maladjusted children but others can be more suitably placed in special schools for the educationally sub-normal. To overcome the difficulties which often arise in placing such children, the establishment in each region of one or two special schools intended primarily for them, and staffed accordingly, merits serious consideration.

The most backward pupils

16. The children most in need of the help which only special schools can provide are those with the greatest degree of handicap and, in the Minister's view, they should have first call on the existing places. It is undesirable that severely handicapped children should be allowed to remain in ordinary schools. Further, it is only in special schools or in units where special provision is made that a satisfactory trial can be given to those whose disability of mind is such that it is doubtful whether they are suitable for education at school.

Early Selection

17. The provision of more places in day special schools will make it possible to select children for education in special schools at an earlier age than is often done at present. Special educational treatment in the early years of a child's school life may enable him to take

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his place in an ordinary secondary school later. Where a child obviously requires education in a special school, his parents should be urged to agree to his attendance as early as possible, and his admission should not be delayed on account of any arbitrary minimum age of selection. To this end, in designating the age range of children admitted to a special school greater flexibility is possible by classifying the school as catering for juniors, seniors or children of all ages, rather than specifying exact minimum or maximum ages.

Review of pupils' needs

18. The majority of children who go to special schools will no doubt complete their primary and secondary education there. Nevertheless the educational performance of some will turn out to be different from that originally expected and make transfer elsewhere desirable. Authorities are accordingly asked to keep pupils in special schools under review. Any who would benefit by returning to ordinary schools and any in boarding schools who can return home should normally be transferred, subject to the qualification that it will not usually be in a child's interest to change his school when he has only a short period of school life before him. Where a child with a severe disability of mind is given a trial period in school, regular review is particularly necessary so that a decision can be reached as to whether he is suitable for education at school. It is not in his own best interests to keep him at school if training at a local health authority training centre is more appropriate to his needs.

Special School Places

19. The number of pupils in special schools for the educationally sub-normal has increased from 11,000 in 1946 to 34,500 at the beginning of 1961. Since 1949 local education authorities have reported annually the number of handicapped pupils awaiting places in special schools and

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their figures for the educationally sub-normal have remained surprisingly constant, around 12,500 in total, despite the increased number of places available. A special survey was made in May 1956, when the Minister asked local education authorities to state the total number of educationally sub-normal children as yet unplaced whom they estimated required education in special schools, if the figures in their annual return of those awaiting places did not include them all. This estimate for England and Wales totalled approximately 27,000, (19,000 day, and 8,000 boarding places). If to this estimate are added the 25, 000 pupils who were then already in special schools for the educationally sub-normal the resulting total is 52,000. This is nearly 0.8 per cent of the number of children in maintained schools in that year. If the estimated increase in the school population by 1965 is taken into account the estimated total number of places needed becomes 54,000.

88. The completion of building programmes already approved for the years up to March 1963 will raise the number of special school places to 44,500 of which approximately 10,000 will be boarding places. The Minister intends to approve building programmes for subsequent years that will raise the number of special school places for educationally sub-normal pupils to 54,000 as soon as practicable. He realises that thereafter more special school places may still be needed in some areas and that there will still be some old schools to be improved or replaced.

Regional consultations

21. Further day special schools in districts hitherto without them will reduce the number of children who have to go to boarding school because no day school is accessible, and will necessitate the review of estimates of boarding place needs which were made in 1956. Authorities are therefore asked to re- examine their requirements now and to discuss with their neighbours the best means of making any additional boarding provision that may be needed either in

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boarding schools, in combined day and boarding schools, or in hostels attached to day schools. For this purpose, and for discussing the provision for the educationally sub-normal who are also maladjusted, they will no doubt make use of their regional consultative machinery.

Further Education and Personal Help

22. It has been customary for pupils to leave special schools when they have reached the upper limit of compulsory attendance. The problems of adjustment to working life are, however, greater for them than for others, and authorities have power to continue their education either at school or by some form of further education. It would clearly be in the interests of some to remain at school, and their parents should be urged to allow them to stay.

23. Further education after leaving school can help school leavers to cope with the new problems and opportunities of work and leisure. Some are able to take advantage of the part-time facilities provided for young persons generally, but it is likely that many educationally sub-normal pupils will benefit most from provision which is made primarily with their needs in view. Some authorities have already taken steps in this direction. In one county a member of the staff of a boarding special school holds small classes of those who have left the school at selected outside centres in order to continue their general education and to help them to deal with the new problems which confront them. Another authority has similar arrangements for those who have left its day special schools. A county borough has opened an evening institute in the premises of its day special school with the headmaster in charge, providing classes in cookery, dressmaking, metalwork and woodwork, which are attended by ex-pupils of the school. Another has a well-attended social club, supervised by the headmaster and staff of the school, which provides opportunities for games, music and craft work. A number of special schools are endeavouring to maintain informal contacts with their

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ex-pupils. Perhaps less has been done for the educationally sub-normal pupils leaving ordinary schools. Local education authorities will be aware that their powers to provide for handicapped persons who have left school are governed by their schemes of further education, which are for the most part sufficiently broad to cover the provision of formal education and organised leisure-time occupations for any school leaver. Where necessary authorities are able to propose modifications of their schemes.

24. During the last year at ordinary or special school and on leaving school educationally sub-normal children and young persons may require vocational, medical, or other forms of personal help. They should be told what services are available and how to apply for them. Consultation between the officers administering these services and those who have been concerned with the pupils at school is of particular importance at these stages and the Minister wishes to endorse what has been said on the need for close co-operation by the Minister of Health in his Circular 9/59 of the 4th May 1959, a copy of which was sent to local education authorities for information. The services of youth employment officers in finding suitable work with sympathetic employers have been of inestimable benefit to many of these school leavers. Under Section 48(3) of the Education Act 1944, as amended, local education authorities have power to provide medical treatment for senior pupils for whom they provide further education. A special need which has been felt in some areas is for hostels for pupils who have left boarding special schools who have no satisfactory home to which to return or who have started work away from home. Local health authorities have power to provide such hostels and to contribute towards the cost of their provision by other bodies, as part of their mental health services. Local children's authorities who have provided hostels under Section 19(1) of the Children Act 1948 for children who are or have been in their care may also accommodate in them under Section 19(2) of the Act other children who are over compulsory school age, but have

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not attained the age of 21; they may also place children who are in their care in hostels provided by other bodies, upon such terms as may be agreed by them with those bodies. One voluntary association acting as the agent of a charitable trust which has supplied funds for the experiment, and with the co-operation of a number of health authorities, is running hostels for young workers who have left schools for the educationally sub-normal.


25. The provision of extra places in special schools, and the increasing interest in the backward in ordinary schools, will require a substantial increase in the number of teachers for the educationally sub-normal . Experience of teaching ordinary children is desirable. Special training is not a prescribed condition of employment as a teacher of educationally sub-normal children but it is plainly desirable that there should be more opportunities than at present for teachers of these children in ordinary schools and in special schools to be given a systematic introduction to the problems and difficulties of this exacting work. The Minister hopes that increasing numbers will be able to attend courses for teachers of the handicapped established in response to Circular 324 of May 1957. Nine supplementary courses and seven special courses of advanced study, all of one year's duration, will be in operation in the academic year 1961/62, with a total of about 250 places, dealing mainly although not exclusively with the teaching of the educationally sub-normal. In addition a course of one term's duration is run twice yearly for teachers of backward children in ordinary schools. The success of these courses depends in part on the willingness of local education authorities to send teachers to attend them, and they are asked to ensure that full use is made of the places available.

26. There is need for the local provision of short full-time or part-time courses for teachers who for one reason or

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another are unable to take advantage of the full-time one year course. Authorities are asked to make arrangements, in co-operation where appropriate with an Institute of Education, for the provision of such courses for teachers in their areas.

27. Teachers should have all the appropriate information about particular children coming into the school that can be obtained from the schools previously attended, from school medical officers and, where appropriate, from child guidance clinics. They should be able to obtain help from school medical officers, educational psychologists and other professional staff and be made aware of the advisory services which are available from the authority. Valuable guidance can be given by the authority's organisers when these are responsible both for special schools and for special education in ordinary schools. Interchange of teachers between ordinary and special schools, particularly the secondment of special school teachers for a year to ordinary schools, is a useful way of spreading knowledge of different methods of providing special education. It would be appropriate to continue paying the special school salary additions to a teacher, who intends to return to the special school, for a period of secondment to an ordinary school not exceeding one year.

28. Non-teaching assistants are needed in the schools to help teachers of very young backward children with their social training and out-of-class supervision. It should be possible to arrange for any training necessary for work in day schools to be given in service.


29. The Minister believes that authorities will be able to make very considerable progress in the next few years in improving the provision for educationally sub-normal children. They are asked to ensure that teachers are made fully aware of their responsibilities for the early selection of

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educationally sub-normal pupils for special treatment and of the help which is available from other officers; to assist ordinary schools to provide special education by advice and the appointment of suitable staff; to release teachers to attend existing courses of additional training and arrange others for them where necessary; to keep the progress and individual needs of pupil in special schools under review; and to extend their arrangements for the formal and leisure-time education of educationally sub-normal pupils who have left school. He is sure that these measures, together with the establishment of more special schools, will ensure that most pupils receive the extra care and attention which the educationally sub-normal require to enable them to lead independent and useful lives.

30. Circular 79 is hereby cancelled.