Prior's Court School

Independent Special School

Hermitage, Thatcham, West Berkshire, RG18 9NU

01635 247202/245914



Director of Young People's Learning

Sue Piper

Age Range

5 – 25 years

Total Pupils


Special Needs


Prior's Court Foundation (usually referred to as Prior's Court) is a registered charity based in Berkshire providing education and residential care for young people with complex autism, aged 5-25 and helping them to be healthy, happy, more independent and have the opportunity to work.

All young people at Prior's Court are have been diagnosed with complex autism and have moderate to severe learning difficulties and complex needs. They may also exhibit challenging behaviours and diagnosable conditions such as epilepsy.

The foundation manages Prior's Court School and Prior's Court Young Adult Provision.

Prior's Court School, founded in 1999, is an independent special school for persons aged from 5 to 19 years. It is dually registered as a Children's Home. Most young people are non-verbal, pre-verbal or have limited language and are working from the equivalent of what were known as lower P levels through to National Curriculum levels 1 and 2. Many young people have additional diagnoses and exhibit challenging behaviours. Day, weekly and termly placements are available over 38, 44 or 52 weeks of the year

Prior's Court Young Adult Provision (YAP), set up in 2011, provides 52-week supported living and learning for young adults aged 19 to 25-years-old. It is designed to provide a transitional step towards a more independent life.

Set in approximately 50 acres of gardens, woods and paddocks there is a secure and welcoming environment specifically adapted to suit the needs of the young people with a range of exceptional facilities

The environment is adapted to be:

  • highly structured

  • calm and tranquil

  • safe

  • provide opportunities to learn, exercise, socialise and relax onsite

  • support transitions

  • support the strong focuses within our approach on physical exercise and the development of leisure and vocational skills.

There are 12 residential homes at Prior's Court School and a further four within Prior's Court Young Adult Provision. All homes are designed to provide a comfortable and homely environment that is also autism-specific and suited to the age and needs of the young people living there.

Leisure, exercise and recreational activities include an indoor, heated sensory swimming pool; an all-weather track; indoor and outdoor gym equipment; and contemporary art and sculptures placed throughout the site, gifted by Founding Patron, Dame Stephanie Shirley CH.

Vocational facilities include an industry-standard bakery; an orchard; Countryside Learning Centre with outdoor classroom, stable yard and paddocks; IT suites; kitchen garden and horticulture area; and fully equipped classrooms for woodworking, metalwork and pottery.

Further specialist facilities to support and extend learning include a Health & Wellbeing Hub; mutli-sensory suite, and a spacious purpose-built dining room.

Learning takes place throughout the entire Waking Day and in all settings, including education, residential homes and within the wider community, with a person-centred approach.

Consistency is achieved through having a shared approach, careful planning and a focus on ensuring expertise for all staff. Education, residential and therapy teams work together with specialists and parents/carers to ensure consistency. This way, each young person has the opportunity to make progress in all areas of learning

The Prior's Court Learning Framework outlines seven Areas of Learning: Communication, Positive Behaviour Support, Daily Living Skills, Vocational Learning, Functional Academics, Keeping Me Safe, and Healthiness. Within the framework, each young person has a personalised programme of learning with both group and individual activities. Work is individualised to meet the strengths and interests of each young person and to help them develop in areas where they are challenged.

Young people throughout Prior's Court School through ASDAN-accredited learning pathways with a larger emphasis for the Sixth Form and Young Adult Provision around vocational learning, with a view to gaining the skills to enter the world of work. Learning includes access to on-site and off-site work placements.

The School aims to provide a very high standard of education and care with well-qualified and well-trained staff. Staff are trained in the Prior Approach, which combines Structured TEACCHing methodology with autism best practice. It is shaped to suit the specialist needs of individuals with autism and empower staff to support their physical, intellectual and emotional wellbeing.

A large team of multi-disciplinary and therapeutic professionals include a Speech and Language Therapy team; Occupational Therapists; General Registered Nurses; Positive Behaviour Support specialists; and PE, Swimming, ICT, Horticultural, Countryside Learning and Vocational Skills Instructors. The multi-disciplinary team is based on-site for 52 weeks of the year.

A core programme of training includes safeguarding, first aid, positive behaviour support, epilepsy, medication dispensing, and infection prevention and control.

To ensure consistency and best practice, a strong emphasis is placed on training staff in structured teaching. Prior's Court has strong links with the University of North Carolina, where the Structured TEACCHing system was developed.

"We have always been really happy and felt very supported right from the start. Our journey has been so positive, and the results now mean that our son is able to enjoy some social activities and try new things. The progress he has made has made such a difference to his and our lives. He is developing into a young man that can now cope better with daily life. He is happy and thriving and we are so very proud of him. It is hard to look back at the enormous challenges he had back in 2015 - his experience of Prior's Court has changed his and our lives."

Parent of a young person at Prior's Court