SEND Stats 2022: How has the pandemic affected the numbers of pupils with SEND?

It’s the middle of June, and that means the Department for Education (DfE) has just published its annual set of statistics on special educational needs in England. 

You can find the data here, and these days it’s a lot easier to play with the numbers yourself. But if you just want the main facts and figures, then we’ve summarised them here - with a few handy infographics too.

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What’s in these figures, and what’s not?

These SEND figures are hoovered up by the DfE in January each year as part of a census. They are collected from state-funded nurseries, state-funded schools, hospital schools, independent schools, alternative provision, and non-maintained special schools.

What that means is these figures don’t cover further education, home education, apprenticeships, or supported internships. They also don’t cover specialist post-16 colleges or independent special schools either. 

All the same, the data here is useful. It still covers a broad range. It’s particularly useful for finding out about school-aged children with SEND who don’t have an EHCP, and the splits of primary need, age, gender, and ethnicity within the school SEND population.

But as with all data sources, there are some important health warnings to bear in mind:

  • The data includes a breakdown of different types of special educational need and disability – but the terminology that’s used to classify SEND doesn’t always play nicely with specific labels and needs. You can’t use these numbers to work out the number of school pupils with Down Syndrome, or ADHD, or Developmental Language Disorder – and some of the categories of SEND that the census does use are inadequate catch-alls. 
  • The data has been submitted by tens of thousands of individual schools, who each have their own take on how to classify a particular type of SEN, or even whether a child actually has SEN at all. A 2021 report from the Education Policy Institute convincingly shows just how inconsistent SEN identification can be at school level.

So what does the 2022 data tell us?

Last year, we said that we were expecting the consequences of the pandemic to show up in this year’s data, as more pupils returned to school after prolonged periods of lockdown and clinical vulnerability. In 2022’s figures, there’s some signs of that kicking in.

There were nine million school pupils in England in January 2022. Of these, 16.5% (about 1.49 million) were reported to have some type of special educational need. That percentage is higher than at any point since the 2014 SEND reforms, but the proportion of pupils that schools identified as having SEND is still a fair bit lower than it was in 2010.

Three quarters of these pupils – 1.13 million of them - are on SEN Support. For the most part, these pupils are supported through resources available to individual schools and academy trusts. The number of pupils on SEN Support is up by around 47,000 since January 2021.

The other pupils – around 356,000 – have an Education, Health & Care Plan (EHCP), a number that’s grown a lot in both in size and proportion. In January 2022, 4% of school pupils in this census had an EHCP. At the start of the SEND reforms in 2014, it was 2.8%

These look like tiny percentages – but the rise in EHCPs is causing a mass outbreak of sweat patches on pinstriped skirts and suits in Whitehall, and unseemly swollen wallets stuffed into the shiny trousers of the consultants who are helping the civil servants to manage SEND demand.

Biggest rise in Key Stage 2 of numbers of pupils with SEND

The growth in the numbers of pupils with SEND is biggest in the primary school sector – particularly in Key Stage 2, the older primary years. In January 2022, one in five Year 6 pupils was on the SEND register.

As the pandemic dragged on, people predicted that there would be a lot more pupils with particular types of need once schools opened for routine business again. There’s a little bit of evidence to support that. 

Compared with last year, there are now 25,000 more state school pupils with speech, language and communication (SLCN) listed as a primary need, and about 18,000 more pupils with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) as a primary need. There are 5,000 fewer pupils this year with Moderate Learning Difficulty listed as a primary need – that drop is probably a good thing, as it might indicate that identification of need for some pupils is getting a bit sharper.

All the same, there are now nearly 100,000 state school pupils without a clearly reported primary need. Some of these may have SEN that defy blunt categorisation – but at least 46,000 of these pupils have been whacked onto the SEN register without a specifically identified need.

Types of SEND

Elsewhere, the key figures in this data release are fairly similar to last year’s:

  • Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are still the most commonly identified category of primary need, with around 320,000 state school pupils listed. For pupils with an EHCP, autism is the most commonly identified primary SEN.
  • Overall, two thirds of school pupils with SEND were reported to be boys in January 2022. For pupils with EHCPs, 73% were reported to be boys. The gender split was more pronounced for autistic pupils and those with social, emotional and mental health listed as a primary need. What that tells us is unclear, particularly when identification of need is so inconsistent.
  • 82% of school pupils with SEND are in mainstream state schools. Add independent mainstream schools into the mix, and the figure goes up to 89%.

Where do SEND pupils learn?

Within the mainstream school sector, central and local government appear to be betting more heavily on SEN units and resource bases as a way of meeting demand for specialist provision. 

  • In January 2022, there were just over 1,500 SEN units and resource bases in mainstream schools – that’s 84 more than in January 2021.
  • There’s no easy way of working out which types of SEND these extra new units have been built to cater for – but our analysis of capital investment suggests that roughly three-quarters of this extra capacity will be trying to meet the needs of autistic pupils, and pupils with SEMH and SLCN.

Looking at these figures, there’s not a lot here that will convince the authors of the SEND & AP Green Paper that they were mistaken in their analysis of the system’s problems, or that they are mistaken in their suggestions for solutions. 

If you haven’t yet responded to the DfE’s consultation, get stuck in if you can – the link to the consultation is here, and you can find SNJ’s full set of summaries and ponder points here.

Watch the legal implications of the #SENDReview: WEBINAR RECORDING

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Main Infographic for numbers of pupils with SEND 2022

Infographic (accessible PDF linked in caption)
Click image to enlarge (Accessible PDF here)

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