SEND 2023: Numbers increase, and is SEN (No idea what type) the new Moderate Learning Difficulties?

The SEND stats for 2023 have been published and the numbers both of children on SEN Support and those with EHCPs are still rising. You can read our analysis of the EHCP figures here. If you want to see the SEND figures and play around with them yourself, you can do so here.

First off, apologies for the delay with this, and second, apologies it’s not Matt with his incisive analysis. Matt is currently unwell and we are sending our very best wishes to him for a speedy recovery.

These figures for 2022/23 show the numbers of children on both non-statutory SEN Support and those with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), the legal document detailing required support. They don’t tell you whether the EHCPs are any good or legally compliant, and they don’t tell you whether those on SEN Support have improved with whatever input they’ve been given. It’s also not possible to see how much schools have involved parents as partners as they are supposed to, although that would be very interesting information if there was any reliable way to gather and compare it.

I’ve compiled the stats into one infographic at the end, but I’ve split it up into sections below to discuss each aspect.

What do the trends say?

While the number of children with SEND continues to rise, the trends are similar to recent years. The most common type of need among pupils with an EHCP is still autistic spectrum disorder, with almost a third of EHCPs are identified with this as a primary need.

Meanwhile, for those pupils on SEN Support, speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) is the most common need, followed by social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH).

However, you can see from the graphic below, at 17.3%, there are still far fewer children identified as having SEND than in 2010 when it was 21.1%. Since then, when the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition came to power, that number fell to a low of 14.4%. The drop followed a 2010 Ofsted report suggesting too many children were being identified with SEN, with some schools using low attainment as a measure instead of an actual additional need. It’s worth reading this report, for historical context.

The biggest drop was 2014-15, as the 2014 “reforms” kicked in. Did children somehow stop having SEND by the thousands? I think not.

The 2014 reforms brought in EHCPs from birth to age 25, so you would have thought that would have seen a massive increase — maybe back to those 2010 levels, or even higher. That would make sense, given the greater age range of eligibility. But no, after that initial drop, when many councils likely used the switch from SEN statements to strip statutory support from disabled children, it’s only crept back up on a steady rise of 0.1% or 0.2%, until 2021/22, when the pandemic started causing havoc with children’s education and health. How inconvenient!

Headline SEND 2023 figures. Click to enlarge — see here for full accessible PDF infographic. © SNJ 2023

In 2023, despite there being more children with SEND, the percentages of each “need category” on SEN Support versus those with an EHCP are similar to last year, there are just more pupils in each category. So, for example, there hasn’t been a big rise in the percentage of autistic children (or any other category) getting EHCPs compared with those who remain on the SEN Support level of help. Sorry about this statistical truth to those who insist EHCPs are the “golden ticket”.

How accurate are the figures?

The figures are from the school census, so in theory, they are no more or less reliable in that sense than last year. However, Matt says that one of the slight problems with this dataset is that it’s school staff who put down the primary category of need, so you can get a lot of pupils marked as Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) when the SENCO doesn’t really know what else to put. However…

SEND (No Idea what type) is the new MLD

Click to enlarge — see here for full accessible PDF infographic. © SNJ 2023

There are almost 4,000 more pupils in these latest figures than there were last year who are on SEN Support, but for whom no assessment of type of need has been carried out. This is a category was introduced in 2015, and now has a total of 50k children. In other words, SEN (no idea what type).

This means the child has (presumably) been given interventions that might help, but without having a full picture of the child’s needs. This could be because the child is waiting to be seen by an external specialist or for an in-school assessment from, say, an educational psychologist or speech and language therapist, and the school are just doing what they hope might help in lieu of expert input. Or it might be because the school hopes a bit of help will be enough, especially as getting external input is increasingly difficult.

This year there is also a drop in the numbers categorised as MLD, so this could be explained as staff categorising them instead as SEN Support (no idea)— which is probably more accurate than just guessing MLD.

In every category of SEND, boys make up the bigger percentage. This article, by educational psychologist James Redburn, offers a .There are a number of theories as to why this might be, including neurobiological and/or psychosocial differences, bias and misinformation in identification, referral, and assessment, and boys’ needs being easier to spot and target for behavioural reasons perhaps. There are also some ideas to ensure bias isn’t responsible. Let us know your thoughts on this.

Where are the children with EHCPs?

Click to enlarge — see here for full accessible PDF infographic. © SNJ 2023

As you can see from the graphic, the largest percentage of children with EHCPs are in maintained special schools. With the government’s desire to create more specialist provision, the likelihood of true educational inclusion is as far away as it ever was. However, with the lack of accessibility, lack of training, and lack of funding in mainstream schools, coupled with a rigid focus on behaviour that disadvantages many SEND children, parents cannot be blamed for wanting their child in a school that understands who they are and how they learn.

However, as you can see from the graphic below, while the largest percentage of children with EHCPs are indeed in maintained special schools, that proportion is falling, while the percentage in independent schools has increased marginally.

In state primary, there are growing numbers of children with EHCPs, while in state secondary the percentage has stayed roughly the same, but at a lower level than those in primary. So, if we assume they still have an EHCP, we can see that when a child with an EHC plan reaches secondary many are, for whatever reason, not moving to, or not staying in, a local secondary. It’s not that clear where they are moving to, apart from that small rise in independent specialist provision.

That number has crept up in recent years. In 2017, 4% of children with EHCPs in state primary didn’t move to state secondary. In 2018 the differential was 5%, in 2019 it was 7%. By 2020, the 2017 percentage had doubled to 8%. In numbers, that’s 30.5k children. We could ask why, but we know that state secondaries are increasingly becoming hostile environments for disabled children. The real question is, what is the government going to do about it?

Of course, these figures are for children in school, so those out of school because they have no suitable place, though exclusion, or because they are educated at home (whether with an EOTAS package or not) are not accounted for here.

Click to enlarge. PDF here

The figures will allow you to drill down further into this yourself. You can also find an ethnicity subset of data here too.

Main infographic for SEND in 2023

Infographic — Click the link for the accessible PDF
Click to enlarge. Accessible PDF here © SNJ 2023

Also read:

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Tania Tirraoro

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