SEN figures show 2.5% drop in children with special educational needs in England

Just as we agreed to go down to two posts a week over summer (with a week off in August), the Department for Education dropped the 2015 SEN figures. Sigh.

So, we've made an infographic to make it easier to see and plucked out a few headlines for you. You can see the figures and narrative in total at the site This only has the headlines but the report makes for unsettling reading.

Figures for SEN as a whole have been dropping since 2010 and the statistics narrative suggests this might be as a result of the Ofsted Special Educational Needs and Disability review, which claimed that a quarter of all children identified with SEN, and half of the children at School Action, did not actually have SEN. Teachers came under pressure to remove children from the SEN register who may just have been recent immigrants with poor or no English or who perhaps were just, sad to say, naturally low attainers.

However, in 2015, that downwards trend shows a big drop of 2.5% on last year's figures. Of course this could be fantastic news - the SEN reforms have been a mahoosive success in just a year! Yay!

However, to me this is perplexing, because statements/EHCPs have remained stable in percentage terms and have increased in actual numbers. SEN Minister, Ed Timpson assured parents that no child would lose their statutory SEN support simply as a result of the transfer to the new SEN system. But what about the lower levels? Hmmm.

The statistics researchers suggest that the implementation of the SEND reforms in September 2015 may have, "Led to more accurate identification which has led to the steep decline in the number with SEN in January 2015."  Not those with statements/EHCPs; it's the children on lower levels of School Action/School Action+ who have amazingly and spontaneously recovered from their special educational needs and apparently did not need to be transferred to SEN Support.

This drop was highest among 12 year olds, with a fall of 4.1% compared to a fall of 2.7% for all pupils. Well well, that's the age that they would be transferring to Secondary what's happening? Are secondary schools deciding that Primary school assessments were wrong? Is information not being effectively passed on? Or could it be that the change to the new system was a convenient excuse to tell parents that their child no longer met criteria. Or say nothing and just not register them at all? I think this should be looked at more closely and not just be shrugged off or even celebrated as a success of lowering SEN numbers. Don't you?

You may recall that one of the four areas of need,  ‘Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD)’ was ditched and a new area of ‘Social,
Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH)’ was introduced, effectively saying there's no such thing as a naughty child. The intention of the Dfe was for teachers to understand that there is usually a reason for bad behaviour, find it and offer appropriate help. It's to be hoped that these children who were deemed "naughty" and stuck on the register as BESD haven't just been cut loose because behaviour isn't a criteria anymore.

Talking of proper assessment of need, in 2015 pupils who were formerly School Action but have transferred to SEN support are now required to be allocated a 'type of need'. And so, a new code called, ‘SEN support but no specialist assessment of type of need’  has quietly been introduced. This is something else I find perplexing and when I put a call out on Twitter for a definition, others do too -click the "view more" link to to see the replies.

According to the new SEND Code of Practice,6.45, when a child is thought to have SEN their needs should be analysed and if relevant an early assessment by external experts is advised. So there should be NO pupils whose needs have not been identified. It's like saying it's a 'CBA (Can't be arsed) to find out,' category which seems to be the complete opposite of the ethos that the DfE want to see. However, later, someone Tweeted that it could be a way to make sure support isn't delayed. Though without assessment, how do they know what provision is needed?

Another stark finding is for black pupils, Gypsy/Roma & Travellers of Irish heritage who have seen the largest drop in rates of SEN support, falling by 4% in a year.  The smaller groups of Travellers of Irish heritage saw a MASSIVE fall of 9.1% percentage points and Gypsy / Roma fell by 6.4% percentage points. What's going on here? Could it possibly be that they are just being written off under the new system?

I'm pretty sure this isn't the DfE's intention, but because the SEND Code of Practice is short on spelling out specifics, schools may have taken the road of least resistance which is, of course, the cheapest one. I stress this is just a guess - I have no evidence for why and the report doesn't offer any theories either. Maybe the DfE should look at this very quickly.

Other headlines are:

  • Moderate learning difficulty was the most common type of need:  23.8% of pupils
  • Autistic spectrum disorder was the most common need for those with a statement or EHC plan 24.5%
  • SEN remains more prevalent in boys:  16.0% of boys are SEN support compared to 9.2% for girls. This is down from last year when 19.2% of boys and 11.4% of girls had SEN without statements.
  • The gender differences for those with statements or EHC plans remains similar to previous years with 4.1% of boys with a statement or EHC plan compared to 1.6% of girls.
  • Older age groups are more likely to have statement of SEN/ EHC plan. 14/15 year olds are most likely to have a statement of SEN/ EHC plan (3.9%).
  • Likelihood of having SEN support peaks around age 9 and 10: 15.8%

I'll leave you with the infographic I made which you are welcome to download or add to your own blog or Facebook. A pdf of it can be downloaded here. There are many more stats to see - I'm no statistician, so please do add your own analysis in the comments!

SEN figures infographic


Tania Tirraoro


  1. Ed Duff

    If you work out the numbers – the 2.5 percentage point actually means about 220,000 children have disppeared from SEN provision in the last year.
    That’s staggering

  2. Elizabeth Nicholson

    This drop fails to surprise given the removal of the first rung of ladder in accessing support. In attending a parent support group discussing these reforms and what they would mean in spring 14. filled me with fear for my then newly diagnosed ASD son. We have sought identification of his needs since reception. He was placed on School action re behaviour initially, shortly to be followed up with additional maths and literacy support. He stayed on this first rung for 3 1/2 years until he was formally diagnosed as ASD! I wonder if my son would receive the level of support now given the removal of this rung.

    1. Ed Duff

      But the first rung as you describe it hasn’t been removed.
      School Action and School Action Plus have been removed as terminology, but all those children on SA and SA+ should have simply moved across to SEN Additional Support which should function in the same way. It would be a serious failure of the reforms if children were ‘falling out’ purely because of a change of terminology

  3. Katie@anaglyph32

    I have placed a post on your Twitter page re the controversy publicised several years ago about the ‘true’ number of SEN children. The issue of identification of SEN has been a source of contention for many years. The old SA/SA+ categories were never moderated/scrutinised nationally or even regionally and so the data was often only ever as good as the judgment of individual school processes. Some LAs carried out peer moderation but the overall weakness was at national level. From my experience, it was not uncommon as a school advisor to find significant over identification in some schools and, as Ofsted found, I also found the most over identification was at SA with a smaller proportion of over identification at SA+.
    In my experience, the children with the most severe and complex SEN needs which most obviously lead to a statement/ECHP were/are thankfully identified early as a result of multi agency systems in Early Years.

  4. Leigh

    The teaching and SEN systems in primary schools are in disarray. Simply too much has been changed in all areas of schooling without enough DfE /Ofsted or HMI guidance, LEA training research or piloting.

    In my anecdotal experience of 3 very different schools, I think there are a number of reasons for this:
    1.There hasn’t been a statutory SEN Support plan format, eg like IEPs, to replace the old SA and SA+ . This means that there isn’t a coordinated and systematic approach to ‘assess, plan, do and review’ across schools. There also isn’t a statutory provision for parental or community involvement. (Children are only in school for 6 hours a day, but what provison and support is given to them when they are at home, in after school clubs, childminders and holiday clubs etc? ) Schools have had to invent their own SEN systems with variable dedication and success. This will have an impact on the recording of needs and progress that is handed up to secondaries.
    2. Some SENCOs have tried to produce workable Local Offers for their schools to show the SEN provision. Unfortunately because of the increased class teacher/subject coordinator work load regarding the new 2014 National Curriculum and a change from levels to Age Related Expectations (ARE) class teachers have not been able to cope with the SEN changes too. If the majority of a class aren’t perceived to have SEN needs and those that have can muddle through then SEN provision is put on the back burner.
    3. Some SENCOs have been told that children should make expected progress from and intervention within a given time frame( generally 6/8 weeks), but this doesn’t take into account individual situations and needs. Time pressures, interventions being left to teaching assistants who may not have had thorough training and then a lack of oversight by the class teacher, SENCOS and senior management often means that the interventions aren’t properly evaluated or the efficacy of the interventions themselves. These children are often then

  5. Terry Miles

    And EHCPS are only for those with “the most severe disabilities”.

    Expect the numbers to fall more quickly in future as those with Statements in school or Learning Difficulty Assessments in college and the right to a transfer to an EHCP leave education.

    Watch those numbers fall as those with dyslexia, dyspraxia, high functioning asd, speech and language needs, mental health needs and OT needs are all denied EHCPs because their needs are not “severe” enough.

    And sooner or later they will come for those with moderate learning difficulties, the hearing or sight impaired…

    And then they will ask whether it’s a wise use of public/tax payer’s money to provide post-16 education to young people who will never have a conventional job…

    Wait for the Daily Mail editorial: “SEN’s just an industry delivering publicly funded private education to the sharp-elbowed middle classe scroungers who want to warehouse their damaged children whilst they get on with their careers…”

    The only reason the Tories supported Sarah Tether’s LibDem initiative was because it delivered these money saving cuts in the number of pupils with SEN under the cloak of a progressive “pupil-centred” agenda.

    But don’t be afraid. Be vigilant. Be organised. Be ready.

    1. Katie@anaglyph32

      the support for children with MLD has long been delegated to schools via the school’s forum in each LA. Remember the school’s forum in every LA is run by HTs not the LA officers. Each forum decides the formula it applies.

  6. Anthony Davies

    Well our EHCP Application after being requested over 12 Months ago, unanimously approved by the Inclusion Panel in March, it has just today been refused on a wholly wrong assumption that Musical Tuition at home towards ABRSM Examinations wasn’t academic study. Am just staggered that the decision makers didn’t do the most basic of research to understand that at Grade 7 and above the level of study is above that of AS & A Level.

    It is staggering that despite taking more than twice the prescribed 20 weeks, they offered us nothing. My belief is that the new regime should undoubtedly be better, and it is clearly laid out, but Council SEND attitudes are so deeply and damagingly entrenched that the promise of the reforms is being derailed before it has a chance to transform lives.

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