Prior's Court School

Independent Special School

Hermitage, Thatcham, West Berkshire, RG18 9NU

01635 247202




Helen Franks

Age Range

5 – 25 years

Total Pupils


Special Needs


Prior's Court Foundation (usually referred to as Prior's Court) is a registered charity providing education and residential care for young autistic people with complex needs aged 5-25. Set within a 50 acre site in Berkshire, it has extensive bespoke facilities to help the young people it supports to be healthy, happy, more independent and have the opportunity to work.

All young people at Prior's Court have a diagnosis of autism alongside severe learning difficulties and associated additional needs such as epilepsy, ADHD, communication and sensory processing needs.

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. Weekly and termly placements are available over 38, 44 or 52 weeks of the year.

Prior's Court Young Adult Provision (YAP), provides 52-week CQC-registered care provision with on-site accredited learning for autistic young adults with learning difficulties and complex needs aged 19-25 years. Its aim is to develop independent living skills; communication; social skills; and vocational opportunities to as 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 specialist facilities:

  • indoor, heated sensory swimming pool

  • all-weather activity track for walking, running, cycling, and scooting

  • swings, trampolines, trim trail and outdoor gym equipment

  • indoor gym with equipment including treadmills and static bicycles

  • art room

  • library

  • contemporary art and sculptures placed throughout the site, gifted by Founding Patron, Dame Stephanie Shirley CH.

  • kitchen garden and horticulture area with greenhouse, polytunnels, horticultural classroom, raised beds and vegetable plots, flower beds, and fruit trees

  • on-site orchard (currently in the growing phase of its development)

  • Industry-standard bakery facilities within our bakery, Bread and Beyond

  • Countryside Learning Centre with outdoor classroom, stable yard and paddocks, housing a range of farmyard animals

  • Fully equipped classrooms for woodworking, metal work, pottery, and maintenance of bicycles and scooters

  • IT suites that reflect an office environment to encourage and support vocational skills

  • A Careers Library with accessible information about the world of work and careers available

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

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.

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 Teaching 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 Teaching system was developed.

"My son has made great progress since he has been at Priors Court. He can now go out in the community, have a snack and go out to a restaurant, something he never did beforehand. The staff have been absolutely wonderful, and my son is a much better person because of the time he spends there." Parent of a young person at Prior's Court