Academic Year 2021/22

Special educational needs in England

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Introduction

This publication combines information from the school census (state-funded schools), school level annual school census (independent schools) and general hospital school census on pupils with special educational needs (SEN). 

The publication includes breakdowns by type of SEN provision (either SEN support or education, health and care plan), type of need, age, national curriculum year group, gender, ethnicity, English as a first language and free school meal eligibility.

Local authority data on EHC plans is published in the Education, Health and Care plans publication. That data covers all children and young pupil up to age 25 with EHC plans, and includes those not captured in this publication in non-maintained early years provision, further education, home education or not in education, employment or training.


Headline facts and figures - 2021/22

Just under 1.5 million pupils in England have special educational needs

An increase of 77,000 from 2021. Both the number of pupils with an EHC plan and the number of pupils with SEN support have increased:

  • The percentage of pupils with an education, health and care (EHC) plan has increased to 4.0%.
  • The percentage of pupils with SEN but no EHC plan (SEN support) has increased to 12.6%.

Both continue a trend since 2016.

The most common type of need for those with an EHC plan is autistic spectrum disorder and for those with SEN support is speech, language and communication needs

Explore data and files

All data used in this release is available as open data for download


Open data

Browse and download individual open data files from this release in our data catalogue


Guidance

Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance


Create your own tables

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All supporting files

All supporting files from this release are listed for individual download below:

List of all supporting files

Pupils with special educational needs in schools

Pupils with special educational needs (SEN) are currently classified as follows:

SEN support

Extra or different help is given from that provided as part of the school’s usual curriculum. The class teacher and special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) may receive advice or support from outside specialists. The pupil does not have an education, health and care plan. SEN support replaced the former School Action and School Action Plus categories from 2015. 

Education, health and care (EHC) plans and statements of SEN

A pupil has an EHC plan when a formal assessment has been made. A document is in place that sets out the child’s need and the extra help they should receive. Prior to September 2014, a statement of SEN was used. The period for local authorities to transfer children and young people with statements of SEN to EHC plans started in September 2014 and ended in 2018. Following the introduction of EHC plans in September 2014, statements of SEN and EHC plans were grouped together within the data. 

Independent schools

Guidance on how independent schools are advised to record pupils with special educational needs is available in section 2.5 of the School level annual school census.

The number and percentage of pupils with SEN has continued to rise

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan has increased to 4.0% in 2022, continuing a trend of increases since 2016. Prior to this, the rate had remained steady at 2.8%. This is in line with local authority data on the number of EHC plans. 

The percentage of pupils with SEN support has increased, from 12.2% to 12.6%, continuing an increasing trend from 2016.

Number of pupils with an EHC plan has increased 50% since 2016

The number of pupils with an EHC plan has increased by 9% between 2021 and 2022, and by a total of 50% since 2016. The number of pupils with SEN support has increased by 4% to 1,129,800 since 2021 and by a total of 14% since 2016. Between 2016 and 2022 the total pupil population increased by 5%.

Pupils with an EHC plan made up almost one quarter (24%) of all pupils with SEN in January 2022. 

Local authority data on EHC plans is published in the Education, Health and Care plans publication. The data covers all children and young pupil up to age 25 with EHC plans, and includes those not captured in this publication in non-maintained early years provision, further education, home education or not in education, employment or training.

The number of pupils with an EHC plan has increased across all school types except state-funded nursery

  • In primary, 2.3% of pupils have an EHC plan and 13.0% have SEN support
  • In secondary, 2.2% of pupils have an EHC plan and 11.9% have SEN support
  • In pupil referral units (PRUs), 28.2% have an EHC plan and 54.0% have SEN support

The largest increase in EHC plans was in primary, with an additional 10,200 pupils with plans since 2021.

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan in PRUs has continued to increase, from 24.0% to 28.2%, this is driven by both an increase in the number of plans and by a decrease in the overall population in PRUs.

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan who are in mainstream schools (state-funded primary and secondary) has increased from 50.4%  to 51.4% in 2022. Although the number of pupils in special schools has increased, the percentage of pupils with an EHC plan attending state-funded special schools has dropped from 40.6% to 39.4%. These trends continue patterns seen since 2018.

Primary type of need

Primary and secondary type of need are recorded in the school census and are available for state-funded nursery, primary, secondary and special schools, non-maintained special schools and pupil referral units. Data on type of need is not available for independent schools or general hospital schools and these are not included in totals in this section.

The most common type of need among pupils with an EHC plan is autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)

Almost one in three pupils with an EHC plan are identified with a primary need of ASD (103,400 pupils). 

The most common type of need among pupils with SEN support are speech, language and communication needs

The primary need identified for 262,400 pupils was speech, language and communication needs. This is followed by social, emotional and mental health needs (208,900 pupils) and moderate learning difficulty (197,400 pupils) 

These trends are similar to 2021.

Pupil characteristics

Information on the characteristics of pupils with SEN are recorded in the school census and are available for state-funded nursery, primary, secondary and special schools, non-maintained special schools and pupil referral units. Data is not available for independent schools or general hospital schools and these are not included in totals in this section.

SEN is most prevalent at age 10

The percentage of pupils who have SEN increases with age, reaching a peak of 20.0% of pupils at age 10. This then steadily declines to 16.3% at age 15.

SEN continues to be more prevalent in boys than girls

72.8% of pupils with an EHC plan are boys, down slightly from last year. 63.5% of pupils with SEN support are boys, however this has been slowly decreasing in recent years

The percentage of all pupils eligible for free school meals has increased sharply since the introduction of transitional protections which will continue to be in place during the roll out of Universal Credit. This has meant that pupils eligible for free school meals on or after 1 April 2018 retain their free school meals eligibility even if their circumstances change. In January 2022, the percentage for all pupils was 22.5%, compared to 20.8% in 2021, 17.3% in 2020, 15.4% in 2019 and 13.6% in 2018

Pupils with SEN are more likely to be eligible for free school meals

39.7% of pupils with an EHC plan and 36.4% of pupils with SEN support are eligible for free school meals in 2022. This compares to 22.5% of all pupils in schools.

Pupils with SEN have higher rates of first language being English than the general school population

84.3% of pupils who have SEN support and 84.3% of pupils with an EHC plan have a first language known to be or believed to be English. This compares to 80.1% of all pupils in schools. 

SEN is most prevalent in the Traveller of Irish heritage ethnic group

24.3% of pupils recorded as Traveller of Irish heritage ethnic group had SEN support in 2022, and a further 5.7% had an EHC plan. The lowest rate for SEN is in the Chinese ethnic group, 5.0% of pupils in this ethnic group had SEN support and 2.3% had an EHC plan. These groups are largely unchanged from 2021. 

SEN units and resourced provisions

SEN  units

SEN units are special provisions within a mainstream school where the pupils with SEN are taught mainly within separate classes for at least half of their time.

  • are designated by the local authority specifically for making SEN provision, and sometimes accommodate pupils registered at other schools on a part-time basis
  • receive funding of £10,000 per place, and usually top-up funding for any additional costs of support required by individual pupils
  • cater for a specific type or types of SEN (for example autistic spectrum disorders)
  • are usually for pupils with an EHC plan (but may also provide support for pupils with SEN support).

Schools and academies should only use this indicator where the SEN unit has been formally recognised as such by the local authority where the school is located.

Resourced provision

Resourced provisions are places that are reserved at a mainstream school for pupils with a specific type of SEN, taught mainly within mainstream classes, but requiring a base and some specialist facilities around the school.

Resourced provisions:

  • are designated by the local authority specifically for making this kind of SEN provision
  • receive funding of £6,000 or £10,000 per place, and usually top-up funding for any additional costs of support required by individual pupils
  • cater for a specific area or areas of SEN (for example specific learning difficulties)
  • are usually for pupils with an EHC plan, but could include pupils with SEN support.

Schools and academies should only use this indicator where the resourced provision has been formally recognised as such by the local authority where the school is located.

Most pupils placed in units will have an EHC plan. It is unlikely that a child would be placed in a unit and also receive support from resourced provision, but a school could have resourced provision for one type of need and a unit for another.

Following an exercise to investigate and improve the quality of data on SEN units and resourced provisions, additional validation checks on the recording of these provisions were introduced into the data collection from 2020. This has resulted in significant changes to the data series and as a result comparisons to previous years are not recommended. Full information on SEN units and resourced provisions is available in the school level underlying data file that accompanies this release.

Increased number of SEN units and resourced provision

The school level data shows that in January 2022, there were 377 schools in England with SEN units (up from 352 schools in 2021) and 1,125 schools with a resourced provision (up from 1,066 schools in 2021). 

User feedback

We would like to know more about our users and would encourage and welcome any feedback on how the data is used. Comments on any issues relating to this publication are also welcomed and encouraged. If you would like to be involved in future user engagement consultations then please do get in touch. 

Please email us at: sen.statistics@education.gov.uk

Help and support

Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about Special educational needs in England statistics and data:

Special educational needs statistics team

Email
sen.statistics@education.gov.uk

Telephone: Sean Gibson
0370 000 2288

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