Pastoral care, staff support and pupils' achievements in personal and social development gain plus points from HMIE.
However, inspectors identify a lack of strategic leadership. Half of the special schools inspected between 2002 and 2005 had weaknesses in self-evaluation, and there needs to be a better focus on improving learning and teaching.
The quality of leadership needs to improve in more than half of day special schools which provide solely for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD).
Overall, learning experiences should be more effective, more motivating and cover a broader range of areas. The length of the school week should be the same as in mainstream schools to provide sufficient time for learning.
Pupils should be encouraged to play a more active part in their own learning to improve their confidence and responsibilities, and should have more opportunities to work with and learn from each other.
Teaching should be more imaginative, with greater use of ICT. Too often learning is teacher-directed with pupils being passive recipients. More use should be made of interesting homework tasks to encourage independent learning.
The report states: "Generally, special schools need to have higher expectations of pupils' achievements. In particular, over half of the schools which provide solely for SEBD pupils need to be better at identifying their pupils' different learning needs. Too often, these schools concentrate on how pupils 'present' behavioural difficulties, without effectively seeking out and addressing the reasons for these difficulties."
It adds that, while individual education plans are used widely in special schools, their quality is variable. "Often IEPs complicate, rather than simplify, the process of meeting pupils' learning needs. In some cases, targets can be insufficiently challenging. In others, pupils' progress towards achieving their targets is not monitored or tracked with sufficient clarity to promote learning and progression.
"Over-elaborate IEPs can work against staff, pupils and parents having a clear understanding of the intended learning outcomes. In a few schools, the use of IEPs has resulted in the development of fragmented learning experiences for pupils."