Distribution of SEN students per region
According to the latest government data, there are over 1.3 million students who have SEN support or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in England. This equates to 14.9% of all pupils . Literacy and inclusion expert Jules Daulby explains that “the proportion of pupils with SEN has risen for a third consecutive year.
"However," she adds, "it’s hard to know if this is because there are more children with special educational needs or because the system is getting better at identifying them. One thing I’m certain of is that families have lost trust in the education system’s ability to support their children without a legal document making it mandatory."
Out of those 1.3 million SEN students, just over 122,000 in England (9%) attend a special school or academy that caters specifically to the needs of SEN students. It may sound like a shockingly low number, but local councils are required by the government to accommodate children with SEN in mainstream schools.
At the moment, there’s an average of 90.69% of SEN students in mainstream schools*. Generally speaking, schools rated Good or Outstanding by OFSTED will always be better at catering for the needs of SEN students, regardless of whether they are a special school or a mainstream one.
An inclusive school should include all children. In practice, however, demands from OFSTED and the Department of Education mean it’s harder and harder for mainstream schools to include SEN pupils meaningfully and with the right support.
– Jules Daulby
High needs funding per region
Every local council in England receives education funding from the government through the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). For 2018-2019, the total DSG allocation across England was £4.3 billion. As you might expect, London gets the biggest portion of this funding, clocking in at just over £803 million.
The DSG is divided into four blocks, of which the “high needs” block is dedicated specifically to cater to the needs of SEN students. The government uses a national funding formula to calculate how much each local council should receive in their high needs block. This block amounted to a total of £611 million across England in 2018-2019 and equates to an average spend of £456 per SEN child.**
Allocations across regions are roughly in line with the number of SEN students in each region, with London, the South East and the North West seeing both the highest amount of high needs funding and the highest number of SEN pupils.
The proportion of high needs places has risen over the past five years, but families often need to rely on tribunals to give them the right assessment. 80% of the time the families win, which says something about the flaws in the system.
– Jules Daulby
Making space for special educational needs and disabilities
So, how well are SEN pupils accommodated in schools across England? The latest government data shows that there is a total of 99,030 places allocated for children with high needs.
The number of places allocated correlates roughly – but not precisely – with the number of SEN students in the region. For example, London has the highest number of places allocated but the second-highest number of SEN students. The North East and the East Midlands respectively have the lowest numbers of places allocated, as well as the lowest number of SEN students.
When it comes to specialist schools and academies that are dedicated solely to pupils with SEN, there are 1,516 in England, mostly concentrated in the South East and the North West. These two regions are also home to more disabled people than other regions (1.7 million and 1.6 million children and adults, respectively).
One of the problems the government must tackle is the Notional SEN Budget (NSB). It expects schools to spend £6,000 of their own budget for each SEN pupil. It’s a deeply unfair system that punishes schools for trying to be inclusive and gives them a perverse incentive to avoid accepting children with SEN.
– Jules Daulby
The future of SEN education
In March 2019, the government called for more educational psychologists to be trained across the UK. The Department of Education’s joint report with the Institute for Employment Research found that there aren’t enough full-time educational psychologists to meet the growing demand. Educational psychologists are an important part of the education system for pupils with SEN as they are the ones who make the necessary assessments to get the child the extra support they need.
So, how do the regions fare currently? The latest government data shows there are just over 2,770 educational psychologists in England. While their distribution across regions does align roughly with the number of SEN students and the number of high needs places allocated in each region, the addition of more full-time educational psychologists could see more pupils getting the support they deserve.
"SEN teaching assistants have often been the first to be made redundant when schools are cutting costs,” says Daulby, adding that “wrap-around services such as the SEN specialist service (SENSS), Ethnic Minority and Traveller Service (EMTAS), Behaviour Support Services (BSS) and Hearing and Visual Impairment Specialist Service (HVISS) are no longer available, so schools must cope alone. All this means schools – and in turn the children who require interventions and assessment – lack much-needed support."
Cuts to SEN budgets in schools have been devastating. The government has pledged to give more but it’s too little too late. Often times the mantra in children’s services for intervention is ‘just enough, soon enough’ so families and children with SEN often don’t get help until crisis point has hit.
– Jules Daulby
Methodology and data sources
- No. of special schools & no. of students with SEN support or EHCP (as of January 2019): https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2019
- School expenditure by local authority (as of September 2019 for the period 2017-2018): https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-local-authority-school-finance-data
- No. of SEN students in special schools (as of January 2019); school funding via Dedicated Schools Grant (as of July 2019) & high needs and additional funding (as of July 2019): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dedicated-schools-grant-dsg-2018-to-2019
- % of Good or Outstanding schools (OFSTED) (as at 31 March 2019): https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/state-funded-schools-inspections-and-outcomes-as-at-31-march-2019
- No. of educational psychologists (as of March 2019): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/educational-psychologist-workforce-research
- No. of places for high needs (as of July 2019): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/high-needs-allocated-place-numbers
- No. of classroom teachers (as of June 2019, for the year 2018): https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2018
- Disability prevalence, by millions of people (published March 2019, for financial year 2017/18): https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-resources-survey-financial-year-201718
- * calculated using the total figures in columns 4 and 2.
- ** calculated using the total figures in columns 8 and 2.