All rise! SEND figures go up in 2019

All rise! SEND figures up again in 2019

For the third year running, the number of pupils with special educational needs (SEND) in schools has increased. In January 2019, the percentage rose to 14.9% from 14.6% of the total pupil population in 2018. 

In January 2019, Department for Education figures show 3.1% (271,200) pupils of all pupils having an Education, Health and Care plan. (EHCP) Last year, the percentages stood at 2.9%. For those with SEN but no EHCP, the numbers stand at 1,047,200, or 11.9% of the total school population.

So that’s the headline. but the first thing to note is this data is not accurate when it comes to reporting the total number of EHCPs from 0-25 years, which is the actual age span of the Education, Health and Care Plan. This is because the information is derived from school census returns, general hospital school census and school level annual school census returns made to the department in January each year. While young people in school sixth-form years 12 & 13 are included, those of the same age in FE colleges or specialist placements are not. Neither are those small numbers on supported internships and apprenticeships. Additionally, while under-fives in school-based nurseries are included, those in privately-run facilities are not. This means the true number is going to be quite a bit higher.

Where are the rises from?

The research states that the increase is driven by increases in both the number of pupils with an Education, Health and Care plan and with SEN support. But it’s a data analysis, it doesn’t give any reasons for why the numbers are increasing. 

So I would like to make a few educated guesses, based on the last 11 years of watching SEND statistics and the situation in the country. 

When you look at the main infographic I’ve done, it’s clear that after many years of stability at 2.8% of the school population with statutory-level support, the last two years are reflecting what local authorities have been saying about the huge increase in EHCPs. In fact, the 0.1% rise in 2018 has doubled in the 2019 figures to 0.2%.

This may still seem small, but it is significant after so many years of not budging, despite the percentage of all children identified with SEND fluctuating over the years. While a single year increase is a blip, a two-year increase is starting to look like a trend. 

A little history

The numbers of children with SEN tumbled after 2010, in what was perhaps a knee-jerk response to an Ofsted report the same year, that claimed the then 25% figure of children on the former School Action (the lowest level of SEN), was a result of over-diagnosis. The report said many children just needed better teaching or pastoral care and schools shouldn’t include children purely because English wasn’t their first language, or perhaps their father was militarily deployed in a war zone, for example. It was possible teachers were “popping” children on the SEN register who were at risk of falling behind, or in a temporarily disadvantaged position, as a reminder to keep a closer eye on them. The sentiment of closer monitoring was a good idea but to Ofsted, using the SEND register as a means to do this was completely wrong.

So after this, numbers fell steadily until there was a cliff-edge drop of around 2.5% between 2014-2015, just as the SEND reforms were kicking in. I remember this time as being one of chaos with schools, local authorities and everyone else who hadn’t been paying close attention, not knowing what was what when it came to the new system. Then they were overwhelmed by the task of transferring statements to EHCPs. Some schools used the change from School Action and School Action+, to the single level of SEN Support, as an excuse to boot more children off the SEN register, telling parents that the criteria had changed (it hadn’t). But the level of children on statements/EHCPs resolutely stayed the same. 

The EHCP increase - a theory

I think, looking at the statement/EHCP figures in the ensuing years, there is a different story behind the 2.8% being stable between 2014 and 2017. I stress, what follows is anecdotal, but it’s a likely scenario. 

We know from what parents have told SNJ that, despite then SEN Minister, Ed Timpson, emphasising that no child should lose their statutory support unless their needs had significantly changed (i.e, no one), many children found their statement was not replaced by a shiny new EHCP. And while not reflected in the school census-based figures, it’s worth mentioning that many young people aged 16+ who were either moving to a further education college, or who were at an FE college with a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA), were not transferred to an EHCP either.

Meanwhile, a number of parents have told me their applications for a statutory assessment for their child did not receive an acknowledgement for months, if at all. Of course, an acknowledgement means the timescales of a 20-week turnaround deadline kick in. No acknowledgement, no ticking clock. Simples! Of course, it may just have been that overworked SEN departments had no time to reply, but while that’s probably more accurate, it doesn’t make it any more acceptable. Then when an assessment did start, they were rarely completed within the legal timeframe, thus delaying the inclusion of quite a few EHCPs in that year’s figures. If LAs had thought ahead, they would have seen this coming and made provisions. The money was certainly there for implementation, £700 million of it overall, but as Matt Keer explained, so much of that was mis-spent.

So, if all children had been transferred, and on time, as they should have been, and if all applications had been dealt with in a timely and lawful manner as they should have been, I believe the needle of the EHCP percentage rate would have shifted upwards from 2.8% much sooner, thus giving a clearer picture (apart from FE of course) of what was happening.

However, from 2018 and 2019, now that all but 100 statements have been transferred (and wtf are the LAs with outstanding statements doing?) we have finally been seeing the increase. I think that more than a few of these new EHCPs will have been originally applied for in previous years. As mentioned, the FE-based 16-25 cohort, or non-school-based nursery provision aren’t reflected here so they can’t be blamed for the increase in these figures. 

What else?

Besides this catch-up, there is, I think, three other reasons, two positive and one not at all good. 

  1. The spotlight has been increasing on SEND in the media. This means more awareness among parents of what a child is entitled to. It also means more awareness among teachers who may previously not have had as much interest or knowledge in SEND. We are seeing many more teachers following this site too. Additionally, parental direct action in SEND marches and by taking local authorities and the Government to court in a variety of Judicial Reviews have also raised the profile of 
  2. As time goes on, there are a growing number of training opportunities for teachers and, for would-be teachers, a growing number of undergraduate and post-graduate SEND-related subjects. We are constantly being approached by MA students and researchers wanting help or access our readership to publicise their studies (Note, it isn’t a given that we will be able to help). There’s also the Government’s investment in its SEND workforce contract with Whole School SEND and Nasen, with which I myself am involved. This is to train SENCos and school leaders (vitally) in SEND. If you are one of these, please take advantage of this.
  3. Austerity = no money for children on SEN Support. Eventually, cuts mean crisis, and this is where we are today, with parents having no trust that their child will be helped at SEN Support.

Attitudes still need changing

Earlier this week, I attended a Department for Education SEND Funding Consultation. I was dismayed, nay incensed, to hear some professionals STILL stating they thought EHCPs were increasing because parents were ravenously chasing money for their kids by applying for an EHCP. I mean COME ON!!

Parents do not, in my considerable experience, think in those terms. They want support for their children’s special educational needs, but then they see it not being put in place because there is no TA anymore, or the school has no resources to buy in what’s needed, because it’s spent the delegated SEN budget on loo roll. Therefore, parents, if they are able, are going to seek a statutory assessment so there is the legal imperative and the funding to ensure their child’s needs are met. 

Also Read: DfE Research: Mainstream Teaching Assistant cuts negatively impacting SEND pupils

This is no skip through the park on a summer’s afternoon; it’s arduous, it’s exhausting and it’s an emotional minefield. No one does it just to bag a few quid to get their kid into a posh school. So, if this is what you still think, please read this website more thoroughly, or just do us all a favour and get yourself a new career, because your attitude is all wrong. Really, I have no more patience with you. 

And if the parent isn’t able? Therein lies a sad story of a child with a probably blighted future, because no one else is likely to help. Unless serendipitously enough, they happen to be at a school with dedicated, SEND-trained staff – and there are many (God bless you), though nowhere near enough. (see point 2. above.)

Back to the scores on the doors

The most common primary type of SEND need at January 2019 was Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN); no surprise when you consider the breadth of disabilities it encompasses, from autism through to cognitive and physical difficulties. It’s a shame then that there’s such a dearth of Speech therapists.

Also Read: England’s children urgently need a new, accountable, speech and language strategy

Across all pupils with SEN, Speech, Language and Communications Needs (SLCN) is the most common primary type of need at 22% of pupils. Previously, it had been Moderate Learning Difficulty (MLD), which has decreased to 20%. Perhaps this is a sign of more accurate categorisation – MLD is quite a vague term, but who knows?

Pupil Referral Units

The number of pupils with SEN has increased in all school types, with the exception of pupil referral units where a small decrease in pupil numbers has been seen both with SEN and overall. 

In PRUs, the startling figure is still that there are many times the number of pupils with SEN but without an EHCP than with. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to  children in PRUs, but you don’t need to be to wonder why there isn’t a rule that says any child who ends up in a Pupil Referral Unit should have a statutory assessment? Isn’t it of vast importance to understand whether the cause of their ending up in alternative provision is because of an undiagnosed or untreated disability?

PRu figures infographic (reflecting the text)

In fact, shouldn’t any child even at risk of being in a PRU be assessed as a matter of priority? Why is it that it is acceptable to turf any child out of mainstream without investigating the cause of their difficulties and whether they might be mitigated by significant support funded by an EHCP? And that goes double for those children listed as being without any SEN in a pupil referral unit, something I find very hard to believe. Have they just been written off and kicked down the food chain of education 

Figures in brief

There is a lot of data in the report an the accompanying tables, so here’s a taste

  • Of those with an EHC plan, however, autism is still the most common primary type of need, and has increased slightly to 29% of  pupils. 
  • Over half of all children with SEND (51%) are educated in state-funded primaries. This is 14% of all pupils
  • Almost a third (31%) of pupils with SEND are educated in state-funded secondaries. This is 12% of all pupils
  • Nine per cent of all pupils attend state-funded special schools. The actual number has increased by 6% to over 120,000. 
  • Incidence of SEN in academies is similar to all-state funded schools for both EHC plans and SEN support. 
  • While in previous years the percentage of pupils with an EHCP at state special schools had risen, this year it decreased slightly to 44%. 
  • The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan attending independent schools (6%) has also decreased, though the percentage has increased significantly overall in recent years. 
  • Double the percentage of boys than girls have a recognised SEND, with 4.4% of boys and 1.7% of girls having an EHC plan, both increases on last year. Boys were almost twice as likely to be on SEN support - 15% compared to 8% of girls. (However, when it comes to autism, it’s all too common for girls to go undetected for many years.)
  • Although numbers on SEN support decrease as they go up through school, the percentage with EHCPs increases up to age 16, where nearly 4% of pupils have an EHC plan. This makes me wonder if many of these young people catch up, or if they simply fall through the cracks. 
  • In primary, while ASD is the most prevalent main type of need for both boys (33%) and girls (18%) with an EHCP, those who are on SEN Support, have their primary need listed as Speech, Language and Communication needs (boys at 25%, compared with 20% of girls.) 
  • Moderate Learning difficulty was the most prevalent primary type of need among girls with SEN support at 26%, compared with 21% of boys. 
  • For older pupils with an EHCP, Moderate Learning Difficulty and Social Emotional and Mental Health are both more prevalent. 
  • Across the whole school age range, ASD is the most prevalent main type of need. In January 2019, this was highest at age 4, with 37%. Perhaps this is an indication of more children starting to be diagnosed earlier so it will be interesting to watch this in future years

What about in different LAs?

In individual LAs, the EHCP rate remained the same in 20 LAs around England (1).

In nine LAs others though, the percentage of EHCPs for all pupils actually fell (2), although all, except Warrington, had an actual increase in numbers. You may want to investigate why these two groups of areas bucked the general upwards trend. Are there fewer children with high levels of SEND in these areas, or are these LAs not allowing as many children to have EHCPs? You may find the names of these LAs interesting. You may want to cross reference this with appeals to the SEND Tribunal (although only a tiny percentage do appeal – reasons why need researching) 

In 14 LAs (3), the increase has been double the national rate, at 0.4% (national average 0.2%) and above* with Devon showing a trend-smashing 0.7% increase, but this January 2019 figure is quite possibly (though it’s only an assumption) to be Devon – (and others on this list) catching up with transfers, as Devon’s overall rate is 3.5%, above average but not startlingly so and these figures were taken a month after its awful SEND inspection. 

In 13 LAs (4), the actual percentage of EHCPs (which is 3.1% nationally) is at 4% and above, with Torbay reporting an EHCP rate of over 5%. Many of these LAs are in areas of deprivation, apart from West Berkshire.

Of course, the point of an average is that some LAs will be lower and some above, and there will be many different factors, such as age of pupils, size of LA, levels of deprivation and area of the country, but when you compare the outliers across the piece and their reputations among parents, it’s not difficult to raise some eyebrows and wonder if in some places, policy really does trump the law.


As ever, feel free to share, download or print but only for non-commercial purposes.

SEN figures 2019 infographic, reflecting the text
Copyright, Special Needs Jungle 2019. Download as PDF

The LAs mentioned

  1. No % rate Change LAs: Slough; Sutton; Birmingham; Plymouth; East Sussex; Essex; Milton Keynes; North Lincolnshire; Middlesbrough; Isles of Scilly; Northamptonshire; Southend-on-Sea; Cheshire West and Chester; Bracknell Forest; Wokingham; Peterborough; Bedford; Sefton; Harrow
  2. Percentage fall in EHCPs: City of London; East Sussex; Durham; West Berkshire; Portsmouth; Warrington; Telford and Wrekin; Shropshire; Derbyshire;
  3. Double average % rate of EHCP increase: Derby; Darlington; Rotherham; Hounslow; Blackpool; North East Lincolnshire; Lewisham; Islington; Oldham; Halton; Tameside; Dorset; Devon
  4. Rate of EHCP over 4%: West Berkshire; Stockport; Barnsley; South Tyneside; Merton; Hammersmith and Fulham; Knowsley; Islington; Isle of Wight; Lambeth; Wandsworth; Tower Hamlets; Torbay

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Tania Tirraoro

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