The debate about increasing pupil numbers has generally centred on the need for more primary places. However, it is important that children with special educational needs aren’t overlooked in this focus on the primary sector especially after the recent figures for pupils with SEN published by the DfE. They can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2013
On the face of it the story is an encouraging one, with the number of pupils in the three northern regions of England with statements of SEN actually reducing between 2009 and 2013. However, in the other six regions the number of pupils with statements has risen over this period. At first, I wondered whether this had to do with the larger number of academies in the southern half of England during the review period or whether it was a consequence mainly of the falling rolls in the secondary sector. By reviewing the number of new statements issued during 2012 and comparing them with the number of those first made during 2008 it became clear that the number of new statements has risen across most of the country in 2012, except for the East of England where the number remained the same in the two years, but had dipped and the risen during the intervening period.
So, although the overall numbers of children with SEN and no statement has decreased over the past few years much of this may be due to the decline in the secondary school population rather than a shift in attitudes to SEN. As with all statistics one must be wary of reading too much into some of them. For instance, the table for the percentage of pupils with a Statement educated in a local authority area shows West Berkshire right at the top of the local authority list with 4% of pupils with statements of SEN: anyone with a knowledge of the SEN world will know that the presence of the Mary Hare School for pupils with hearing impairments within this small unitary authority will have significantly affected the outcome for the authority on this measure. Had the table considered home authority and the number of pupils with statements placed ‘out of the authority’ the result would undoubtedly have been quite different. No doubt the concentration of SEN provision in various parts of London is behind the fact that Newham has the lowest percentage of SEN pupils with statements educated in the borough of any authority in England except the City of London.
Young people with SEN remain some of the greatest challenges facing our education system and despite the progress being made those from some ethnic and social groups are more likely to feature in the statistics that those from other backgrounds. It may be 40 years since the Caribbean community in parts of North London challenged the apparent overuse of special schools for pupils from their community but, along with the Traveller and Roma/Gypsy communities, pupils of a Caribbean heritage still have a higher incidence of SEN needs than the school population as a whole.
Finally, the trend towards integration of those with SEN into mainstream provision seems to have been reversed with number of pupils attending special schools increasing by more than 6,000 over the past four years. However, it still represents just 1.2% of the total school population. But for many that will be an unjustifiably high figure.