Academic Year 2019/20

Special educational needs in England

Published

Introduction

This statistics publication provides data from the January 2020 school censuses on pupils with special educational needs (SEN). It also provides information about special schools in England. The publication includes breakdowns by type of SEN provision, type of SEN, age, national curriculum year group, gender, ethnicity, English as a first language and free school meal eligibility.


Headline facts and figures - 2019/20

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Pupils with special educational needs in schools

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

SEN support

From 2015, the School Action and School Action Plus categories have combined to form one category of 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.

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. Following the introduction of EHC plans in September 2014, statements of SEN and EHC plans are grouped together within the data. The transfer of statements of SEN to EHC plans was due to be completed in March 2018, and in December 2018, there were less than 100 statements of SEN nationally.

The number and percentage of pupils with EHC plans and on SEN support has risen

Across all schools, the number of pupils with an EHC plan has increased by 8.7%, from 271,200 to 294,800 in January 2020. This represents 3.3% of all pupils, an increase from 3.1% last year. This continues the trend of increases seen from 2018, after remaining steady at 2.8% of the total pupil population from 2007 to 2017.

The number of pupils with SEN support has also increased, by 3.0% to 1,079,000 in January 2020. This represents 12.1% of all pupils, an increase from 11.9% in 2019. 

This gives a total of 1,373,800 pupils with SEN, or 15.5% of all pupils. This has increased from 14.9% in 2019.

The number of pupils with SEN has increased across all school types

Specifically, 

  • 1.8% of pupils in state-funded primary schools have an EHC plan in January 2020, compared to 1.6% in 2019, while 12.8% have SEN support, up from 12.6% last year. Overall, pupils in primary schools make up 49.9% of all SEN pupils, down from 50.8% in 2019.
  • The same percentage, 1.8%, of pupils in state-funded secondary schools have an EHC plan in January 2020, an increase from 1.7% in 2019. 11.1% of pupils have SEN support, an increase from 10.8% in 2019. Overall, pupils in secondary schools with SEN account for 32.0% of all pupils with SEN, up from 31.4% in 2019.
  • There has been a large increase in the percentage of pupils in pupil referral units with an EHC plan, up from 13.4% to 16.4%. There has been an increase in the number of pupils with an EHC plan also, while the overall pupil population in pupil referral units has decreased. Conversely, there has been a decrease in those with SEN support in pupil referral units, from 67.6% to 64.9%. This includes pupil referral units, academy and free school alternative provisions.

The number of pupils in special schools has risen

  • Almost all children in special schools have an EHC plan (97.9%). The number of pupils in state-funded special schools has increased by 6,400 (5.3%) to 128,100,  continuing a trend seen since 2006. The number of pupils in non-maintained special schools has also increased, by 100 (3.2%) to just under 3,800.
  • 9.3% of all pupils with SEN are attending state-funded special schools, excluding general hospital schools, and a further 0.3% of all pupils with SEN are attending non-maintained special schools. This is a small increase on 2019, when 9.1% of all pupils with SEN were attending state-funded special schools, and the same percentage, 0.3%, were attending non-maintained special schools.

The percentage of pupils with SEN in independent schools has risen

  • The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan in independent schools has risen to 3.3%, the same as the percentage of all pupils over all schools. The percentage of pupils with SEN but without an EHC plan (similar to SEN support) has risen to 13.7% in 2020, from 12.7% in 2019

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. 

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

82,800 pupils with an EHC plan were recorded as having autistic spectrum disorder as their primary type of need. This equates to 30% of all pupils with an EHC plan, and is a small increase from 29% of all pupils in 2019. The second most common type of need is speech, language and communication needs, at 15% of all pupils with an EHC plan, unchanged from 2019. These types of need were also the most prevalent in 2019.

SEN support

Among pupils with SEN support, the most common type of need is speech, language and communications needs, with 237,000 pupils (24% of pupils with SEN support) recorded as this type of primary need, this is a small increase from 23% in 2019. The next highest type of need is moderate learning difficulty, with 211,600 pupils (21% in 2020, down from 22%) and then social, emotional and mental health with 194,111 pupils (unchanged at 19% of pupils with SEN support).

Pupil characteristics

SEN is more prevalent in boys than girls

73.1% of all pupils with an EHC plan are boys. This is a small increase on 2019, when 72.9% were boys.

The gap is narrower for SEN support, with boys making up 64.6% of all pupils with SEN support .

SEN is most prevalent at age 10

The percentage of pupils who have SEN increases as age increases through primary years, up to a peak of 19.0% of pupils at age 10. It then declines through secondary ages, down to 15.4% at age 15.

SEN support decreases from age 10

This pattern is driven by SEN support, which increases in primary ages to 15.2% at age 10, before decreasing  to 12.9% at age 11 and continuing to decrease at a slower rate through secondary years to 11.4% by age 15.

The percentage of EHC plans continues to grow with age, throughout all schools ages

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan, however, continues to increase as age increases, all through primary and secondary school ages, from 2.4% at age 5, to 3.8% at age 10, and to 4.0% by age 15.  

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 2020, the percentage for all pupils was 17.3%, compared to 15.4% in 2019 and 13.6% in 2018

As in previous years, pupils with SEN are more likely to be eligible for free school meals

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan who are eligible for free school meals is 34.6%, more than double that for pupils with no SEN (14.9%). The percentage of pupils with SEN support eligible for free school meals is 29.9%.

Each of these figures shows an increase on 2019, in line with increases seen in the overall pupil population for free school meals. 

Pupils whose first language is known to be English have higher rates of SEN

16.0% of pupils whose first language is known or believed to be English have SEN. This is higher than those whose first language is known or believed to be other than English, at 12.6%. This is broadly similar to last year. 

The highest percentage of EHC plans are held by the White - Irish traveller group

5% of pupils with White - Irish traveller recorded as their ethnicity have an EHC plan, and a further 24.9% have SEN support. These are the highest rates for both EHC plans and SEN support.

Black Caribbean has the second highest rate for EHC plans, at 4.7%, followed by any other Black background. The second highest rate for SEN support is among the Gypsy/Roma group at 22.6%.

The lowest rate of EHC plans is the Asian - Indian group at 2.1% and the lowest rate for SEN support is the Chinese group, at 5.5%.

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.

  • 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 £6,000 or £10,000 per place, and usually top-up funding for the excess costs of additional 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 education, health and care (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 the excess costs of additional 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 education, health and care (EHC) plan, but could include pupils with code ‘K’ (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 be on an Education, Health and Care 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. 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.

The school level data shows that in January 2020, there were 361 schools with SEN units and 1,028 schools with a resourced provision in England.

Approved provisions in special schools

Special schools can record the types of need for which they are approved to make provision for. This follows the same list of types of need as for pupil primary or secondary type of need. Schools can record multiple types of need.

In 2020, autistic spectrum disorder was the most prevalent type of need for which special schools were approved to make provision for, as 684 special schools recorded this type of need. This is followed by severe learning difficulty, with 561 schools and moderate learning difficulty with 537 schools.

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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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