The best special schools are "educational innovators" that succeed because their staff "aim never to give up on a child", the chief schools inspector said this week.
Christine Gilbert said they allowed pupils to go on "from small beginnings or from schooling that was interrupted by obstacles and traumatic events" to "achieve remarkable things".
An Ofsted report on 12 outstanding special schools tells how James Brindley School in Birmingham helped nine pupils from war-torn parts of Africa and Afghanistan come to terms with the "appalling" events they had witnessed.
The pupils, from a local mainstream secondary that had made little progress with them, were "very aggressive, traumatised young people, including one elective mute.
"They pushed staff, threw chairs, demonstrated extremes of behaviour and had been excluded repeatedly," the report states.
During weekly sessions at the special school, they used puppets to communicate their experiences, feelings and fears, played games to build trust, and developed a "museum of loss" focusing on positive memories of family members, friends and pets. There had only been one exclusion since the programme began.
The study, designed as a resource for teachers of special educational needs pupils, concludes that the best special-school practice involves high expectations of all pupils, a "refined skill" in finding the best ways to communicate with and relate to them, exceptional expertise in assessing progress, and effective teamwork.
The other outstanding special schools used to compile the report were: Ash Field School, Leicester; Cuckmere House School, East Sussex; Dacorum Education Support Centre, Hertfordshire; Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children, Camden; Glyne Gap School, East Sussex; Linden Bridge School, Surrey; Linden Lodge School, Wandsworth; Piper Hill High School, Manchester; Ravenscliffe High School, Calderdale; Tuition, Medical and Behaviour Support Service, Shropshire; and Woodlands School, Blackpool.
Twelve Outstanding Special Schools - Excelling through Inclusion can be found at www.ofsted.gov.uk.