The DfE data on pupils with special education needs in schools at the January 2019 census data confirms what everyone has been saying about the absolute number of such pupils being on the increase, as might be expected when pupil numbers overall are increasing. However, the percentage of pupils with both SEN and the need for an Education and Health Care plan (EHCP) has also increased. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2019
As the DfE puts it, across all schools, the number of pupils with special educational needs has risen for the third consecutive year, to 1,318,300 (14.9%) in January 2019. This follows a period of year on year decreases from January 2010 to 2016. Over this period, the overall decrease was driven by decrease in the proportion of pupils with SEN support, while the percentage of pupils with a statement or EHC plan remained stable at 2.8%.
The percentage of pupils with SEN Support, those with identified special educational needs, but no EHC plan, followed a similar pattern rising to 1,047,200 (11.9%).
271,200 school pupils had an EHC plan in place in January 2019. This is an increase of 17,500 since January 2018. The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan has risen to 3.1% of the total pupil population in January 2019, after remaining constant at 2.8% from 2007 to 2017.
These figures show why both the high Needs Block of funding is under such pressure and also why local authority SEN transport budgets are also costing local taxpayers more each year. Moe pupils means more schools and it is to be hoped that in parts of England where there are many small local authorities the forward planning by the ESFA is robust enough to deliver these places at the minimum additional travel costs to taxpayers.
Across all pupils with SEN, Speech, Language and Communications Needs is the most common primary type of need at 22% of pupils. This had previously been Moderate Learning Difficulty, which has decreased to 20%.
Among pupils on SEN support, Speech, Language and Communications Needs is also the most common type of need, at 23%. Of those with an EHC plan, Autistic Spectrum Disorder remains the most common primary type of need with 29% of pupils with an EHC plan having this primary type of need. This has increased from 28% in January 2018.
The number of pupils in state-funded special schools has increased by 6% to over 120,000. This represents 9% of all pupils with SEN. The former trend towards integration now seems to be a feature of the past as numbers of SEN pupils in independent schools has also increased. 7% of all SEN pupils are placed in an independent school.
Special educational needs remain more prevalent in boys than girls, 4.4% of boys and 1.7% of girls had an EHC plan, both small year-on-year increases. Similarly boys were almost twice as likely to be on SEN support – 15% compared to 8% of girls.
SEN is most prevalent among boys at age 9 (23% of all boys), and for girls at age 10 (13% of all girls). SEN support is most prevalent among primary age pupils, before decreasing as age increases through secondary ages.
For EHC plans however, as age increases the percentage of pupils with EHC plans also increases, up to age 16, where nearly 4% of pupils have an EHC plan. However, it is not clear how many pupils with identified needs have been flagged by the NHS before they enter into education. This would save schools both time and resources and ensure early help for some children.
With the new focus on mental health, something schools have always been acutely aware of as an issue, I would not be surprised to see the number of pupils with SEN continue to increase over the next few years. The DfE will also need to consider how to help teachers keep as many of those that can manage their learning in mainstream schools to do so.