Birtenshaw School first opened its doors in 1956 so 2016 is a very special year for us as we celebrate our Diamond Jubilee. We are proud of our 60 year history in supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disability, many of  whom have gone on to lead more independent and fulfilling lives as a result of their time at Birtenshaw.

Birtenshaw’s modern, purpose-built special education facilities simply would not exist were it not for the determination of a group of dedicated parents of disabled children back in the 1950s.

The children who first attended Birtenshaw School had all been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (back then the condition was called something we just would not find acceptable today). At that time such children were usually sent off to an institution in the countryside where their basic care needs could be met. Few people thought that such children had any chance; indeed many people thought them incapable of having an education.

The special school system as we know it did not exist.

However, a group of parents in Bromley Cross, Bolton, decided that their children deserved to have an education and formed an organisation to campaign to set up a local school for them.


In 1955, Birtenshaw Hall, the traditional family home of the Ashworth family which had been abandoned in the late 1940s, was purchased by a benefactor and donated to the organisation.

A fundraising campaign was started to raise £30,000 to convert the building into a school. That amount would not even pay for a special classroom today! Nonetheless in December 1956, Birtenshaw Hall School (as it was then known) opened. It was the first non-maintained special school in the UK.


Throughout the 1960s, Birtenshaw School’s role developed significantly from a day special school for children with cerebral palsy to include services for children with other types of physical disability or medical conditions.

Also during the 1960s, Birtenshaw School started to provide care services. At first it provided after school care before introducing overnight care. Initially this was on an ad-hoc basis but by the late 1960s early 1970s care services were being provided throughout the academic year.


During the late 1990’s more and more referrals started to come through for children with a learning disability and by the early 2000s many such referrals were for children who also had Autistic Spectrum Conditions.

2000 – Today

In September 2000, following a request from a family whose child attended the school full time, year round care was provided through residential facilities attached to the school.

By 2006 Birtenshaw School started to develop services specifically for children and young people with Autism or Autistic Spectrum Conditions. We are now fully accredited with the national Autistic Society (NAS) as a specialist provider.

In 2010 Birtenshaw began to provide services for young adults for the first time in our history. We have now developed unique expertise and experience in supporting children and young adults with significant physical disability, complex health needs and moderate to severe learning disability in a wide range of settings all of which are purpose built or adapted facilities.

In September 2012 we moved into our brand new multi-million pound school site. This site now offers state-of-the-art facilities specifically designed and purpose built to meet the exacting welfare and learning needs of pupils with special education needs and disability. The school is co-located with the charity’s new Head Office and a Hydrotherapy Centre.

It was the first time in our history that we had a purpose built school. This was closely followed in 2014 by the establishment of Birtenshaw College which focuses on developing life skills allowing young adults to move to an independent life with relevant functional, vocational and practical skills.

We are proud of our history, our facilities and our achievements. Birtenshaw has come a long way since its early beginnings in 1956; from the first non-maintained special school in the UK, to one of the country’s foremost providers of specialist education and care services for children and young adults with special education needs and disability (SEND).

Over the past few years we have also become the largest charity in the Bolton area and created a significant number of new jobs. Not only has this helped the local community and economy but it means we have been able to support more children and young adults than ever before.

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