SEND 2018: More children with SEND, but it’s worse if you’re poor

SEND 2018: More children with SEND, but it’s worse if you're poor

It’s the end of July so it must be time for the annual SEND figures – the government statistics that show how many children and young people have some kind of registered SEND.

In 2018, the headline figure is that the number of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) has increased for a second consecutive year from 1,244,255 in January 2017 to 1,276,215 in January 2018, an increase of 31,960 from 14.4% to 14.6% of pupils.

Of these, 253,680 pupils had a statement of SEN at the end of January this year or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. This is an increase of 11,495 since January 2017, from 2.8% of the total pupil population to 2.9%. Although this is just a 0.1% rise, it is significant as the 2.8% figure hasn’t increased since before 2010.

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The scores on the doors

  • The percentage of pupils with SEN Support, has followed a similar pattern rising from 11.6% in January 2016 and 2017 to 11.7% in January 2018. This follows a decline in each of the previous six years from 18.3% of pupils in January 2010.
  • Moderate Learning Difficulty is the most common primary type of need overall at 21.6% of pupils in January 2018. This percentage has decreased from 22.7% in January 2017 when it was also the most common primary type of need.
    Moderate Learning Difficulty is also the most common type of need for pupils on SEN support; 24.0% of pupils on SEN support had this primary type of need in January 2018. MLD was the most prevalent primary type of need among girls with SEN support at 27.5%, compared with 22.2% of boys.
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder remains the most common primary type of need for pupils with a statement or EHC plan. 28.2% of pupils with a statement or EHC plan had this primary type of need in January 2018. This has increased from 26.9% in January 2017.
  • Speech, Language and Communication needs was the most prevalent primary type of need among boys with SEN support at 24.3%, compared with 20.0% of girls.
  • Gender: Special educational needs remain more prevalent in boys than girls, 14.7% of boys were on SEN support in January 2018 compared to 8.2% of girls. There is little change from January 2017 when 14.6% of boys and 8.1% of girls were on SEN support. 4.2% of boys had a statement or EHC plan in January 2018, an increase from 4.0% in January 2017. 1.6% of girls had a statement or EHC plan in January 2018, unchanged from January 2017.
  • 38,669, or 4.1% of pupils who were on SEN support, were still waiting to be assessed to find out what their primary type of need was. How do teachers know what the right support for these children is? An experienced teacher, one with a good interest in SEND or an engaged SENCo, will doubtless have a good idea what might work, but I pity the poor children who do not have these experts on their side. Less of an educated guess, and more of a ‘suck it and see’ perhaps? Let’s hope none of these thousands of children has to wait too long…

Where are they?

State Special Schools: The percentage of pupils with a statement or EHC plan attending state-funded special schools has seen a year on year increase since January 2010 from 38.2% to 44.2% in January 2018.

Independent schools: The percentage of pupils with statements or EHC plans attending independent schools has also increased year on year between January 2010 and January 2018, from 4.2% to 6.3%. The percentage of pupils with SEN without statements or EHC plans attending independent schools has also increased each year. In January 2010, 4.0% of pupils with SEN without statements or EHC plans attended independent schools, increasing to 7.1% of pupils in January 2018.

State primary: The percentage of pupils with SEN without statements or EHC plans attending state-funded primary schools has also increased between January 2010 and January 2018, from 51.4% to 57.1%.

State Secondary: Meanwhile, the percentage of pupils with SEN without statements or EHC plans attending state-funded secondary schools has declined over the same period, from 43.6% in January 2010 to 33.9% in January 2018.

Where are the children with SEND 2018

What’s happening in Academies?

Academies may be out from under local authority control but they must still abide by the law when it comes to children with SEND. Many parents have experienced difficulties in finding places at academies for their disabled children and

These figures show that the placement of pupils with SEN is broadly similar when comparing primary and secondary academies to all state-funded primary or secondary schools.

  • The percentage of pupils with SEN support in primary academies is 12.5%, compared to 12.4% in all state- funded primary schools.
  • 5% of pupils in secondary academies have special educational needs compared to 10.6% in all state-funded secondary schools.
  • The percentage of pupils in primary academies with a statement or EHC plan is 1.4%. This is the same as for all state-funded primary schools.
  • The percentage of pupils in secondary academies with a statement or EHC plan is 1.6%, the same as for all state-funded secondary schools.


“SEN support is most prevalent among 10 year-olds (14.6% of pupils). This is consistent with previous years. This reduces to 12.5% for 11 year-olds and continues to decline as age increases. As age increases, the percentage of pupils with Statements or EHC plans also increases, up to age 15, where 3.8% of pupils have a statement or EHC plan." School Census text

This indicates that the needs of children who had been on SEN support at primary school become more apparent as they go into Secondary, or, parents see that their children who were just about coping in primary find secondary school a significant challenge and they seek the support of an EHCP. It’s often the age when parents decide that mainstream isn’t right for their child as they seek specialist provision. I know from my children’s former independent specialist school, that there is a large influx in Year 7.

What does Matt Keer think?

I'm no statistician, but I know a man who eats numbers for breakfast.. our own columnist, Matt Keer. I asked him for his take on the figures that I haven't talked about:

"On the face of things, these statistics look remarkably unremarkable. Compared to last year, there aren't many big shifts, just slight nudges upward and downward here and there.
"Look a bit closer though, and there are some big changes going on at the SEND front line. For example, the number of SEND units and resource bases in mainstream schools has dropped, and dropped fast - by nearly 10% in the space of 12 months. That's 132 units and 200 resource bases that were here last year, and aren't here any more.
"It's not clear whether these units and bases have closed because their mainstream schools didn't want them any more, or because schools and LAs found them harder to fill as families push for special school places. The former is more likely.  But either way, the fall in units and base numbers will add to the hefty challenges that mainstream inclusion is facing right now.
"This is a trend that LAs are trying to counter - they've recently received the first batch of money from the Department for Education's £253m SEND capital grant, and most of the spending plans I've looked at involve expanding SEND unit or resource base capacity in mainstream, or amalgamating it into bigger multi-SEND units located in a smaller number schools.
"So more money is being pumped into SEND units and bases - the question is, do schools, parents, and pupils still want this model? And if they don't, where do pupils end up?"
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Poverty, SEND and Exclusion

For me, the most worrying trend is nothing new, but does not seem to be getting any better. Pupils on Free School Meals – in other words, pupils from low-income families – represent a disproportionate percentage of children with SEND.

  • Pupils with special educational needs remain more likely to be eligible for free school meals - 25.8% compared to 11.5% of pupils without special educational needs. Pupils with statements or EHC plans are more likely to be eligible for free school meals than pupils on SEN support (30.9% compared to 24.5%).

Why is it that although children receiving FSM make up only 13.6% of the school population, and yet they make up 24.5% of children on SEN support and 30.9% of children with statutory plans? That is a HUGE percentage differential.

As with that we reported on last week, pupils who qualify for free school meals were also more likely to have been excluded – presumably because they are finding school difficult, perhaps they have less support at home or maybe their families are having difficulty putting food on the table. This does not come from nowhere – in this time of austerity, those on benefits are suffering – not least from the mess that is the roll out of Universal credit, as well as punitive sanctions for sometimes the most Kafkaesque reasons. The effect rolls down to the children - it's shameful.

So why are schools so ready to exclude children who are already the most deprived in the country? Is this another form of discrimination? You might ask if the larger percentage of those on SEN Support who have Free School Meals is just a knee-jerk response from the school to children who are not thriving. But the figure is echoed (though the gap isn’t as much) by those with EHCPs – 31% FSM opposed to 24.5%. These children have not just been stuck on the SEN register for lack of anything else – they’ve been through an assessment process and many parents will know that ain’t easy - so why is SEND more prevalent, proportionally with these children and what is being done about it?

On top of this, it should come as no surprise that pupils claiming FSM were more likely than other children with SEND to have Social, Emotional and Mental Health as their primary type of need with 31.3% of pupils with SEN support and 41.2% of pupils with a statement or EHC plan. Put together than that’s a pretty shocking statistic.

Why is this happening? Is it because children in low-income families are more likely to have parents with SEND themselves? Is it because their families can’t afford proper nourishment or have difficult home lives (though the latter is far from restricted to low-income) Are we just content to let them continue to be part of some kind of “underclass” left on the scrap-heap before they’re 18, destined for menial work and to repeat the same patterns into the next generation?

You know what? I think, as a society, we are. Not out of callousness, but because in these days when even families with two working parents can’t afford a mortgage, childcare or a few luxuries, fewer than ever have the energy to care. And with cuts or closure to Children’s Centres, even those people working to provide support are becoming fewer.

What can I do, I ask myself? How can I help? I don’t know the answer. I grew up in a single parent family myself and so qualified for free school meals, and so do many children today in similar circumstances. But I'm not sure these figures are about people like I was, the situational “working poor”. People like me, even with SEND, can still get themselves out of poverty and into university and a better life. I have a feeling these figures reflect generationally poor families who have little hope or aspiration for success because they don’t see it around them and they get little encouragement at school because little is expected of them. Is it any wonder that children become enamoured with those famous-for-virtually-nothings they see on social media – with so many being discarded in their school years, emulating their YouTube heroes is at least one way they can dream for a better tomorrow.

You can read the entire thing for yourself by clicking here

And now for the infographic

Here's the snazzy infographic that tells the story in pictures. As ever, it's free for you to share, download and print with the SNJ credit intact.

SEND figures 2018 Infographic If you'd like this as a PDF, you can download that here.

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO, Editor at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two young adults with autism. Tania is a member of the Whole School SEND Expert Reference Group for SEND Leadership, the Ofsted SEND Inspections Stakeholders Group, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Royal Holloway, University of London Centre of Gene and Cell Therapy.
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
Tania Tirraoro

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