Academic Year 2020/21

Special educational needs in England

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  1. "Any other ethnic group - Arab" added to ethnicity underlying data and table in pupil characteristics section

Introduction

This publication combines information from the school census, school level annual school census, general hospital school census and alternative provision census on pupils with special educational needs (SEN). 

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

While schools were only open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers on census day, schools were asked to record pupils on roll as if in normal circumstances.


Headline facts and figures - 2020/21

  • The percentage of pupils with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan has increased to 3.7%, continuing a trend of increases since 2017.
  • The percentage of pupils with SEN but no EHC plan (SEN support) has increased slightly, from 12.1% to 12.2%, continuing an increasing trend.
  • The most common type of need for those with an EHC plan is Autistic Spectrum Disorders and for those with SEN support, 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

You can view featured tables that we have built for you, or create your own tables from the open data using our table tool


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

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

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

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan has increased to 3.7% in 2021, continuing a trend of increases since 2017. 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, published in the Education, Health and Care plans publication.

The percentage of pupils with SEN support has increased slightly, from 12.1% to 12.2%, continuing an increasing trend.

The number of pupils with an EHC plan has risen by 10% to 325,600 in 2021. The number of pupils with SEN support has increased by less than 0.5% to 1,083,100. 

The number and percentage of pupils with an EHC plan has increased across all school types

  • In primary, 2.1% of pupils have an EHC plan and 12.6% have SEN support
  • In secondary, 2.0% of pupils have an EHC plan and 11.5% have SEN support
  • In pupil referral units (PRUs), 24.0% have an EHC plan and 58.7% have SEN support

Whilst the percentage of pupils with SEN support in primary schools has decreased from 12.8% to 12.6% in 2021, secondary has increased from 11.1 to 11.5%. 

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan in PRUs has increased from 16.4% to 24.0%, this is driven by both an increase in the number of plans and by a decrease in the overall population in PRUs.

Over 98% of pupils in special schools have an EHC plan.

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan who are in mainstream schools (state-funded primary and secondary) has increased from 48.7% to 50.4% in 2021, while the percentage in state-funded special schools has dropped from 42.6% to 40.6%. 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, with 92,600 pupils (30% of pupils with an EHC plan).

The most common type of need among pupils with SEN support are Speech, Language and Communication needs, with 245,200 pupils. This is followed by Moderate Learning Difficulty (203,400 pupils) and Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (195,300 pupils).

These trends are similar to 2020.

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 19% of pupils at age 10. This then steadily declines to 15.8% at age 15.

SEN support decreases from age 10

The initial increasing trend is driven by SEN support, which increases in primary ages to 15.0% until age 10, before decreasing through secondary ages to 11.6% at age 15.

The percentage of EHC plans grows with age peaking at age 11

The percentage of pupils with an EHC plan increases with age until reaching 4.6% at 11, before decreasing to 4.2% at 15. The percentage of those with an EHC plan at age 15 is higher than last year which was 4.0%.

SEN is more prevalent in boys than girls

73.1% of pupils with an EHC plan are boys, unchanged from last year. 64.2% of pupils with SEN support are boys, however this has been decreasing slowly 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 2021, the percentage for all pupils was 20.8%, compared to  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

38.0% of pupils with an EHC plan and 34.3% of pupils with SEN support are eligible for free school meals in 2021. This compares to 20.8% of all pupils in all schools.

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

83.9% of pupils who have SEN support and 84.2% of pupils with an EHC plan have a first language known to be or believed to be English. This compares to 80.3% of all pupils in all schools. 

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

24.4% of pupils recorded as Traveller of Irish heritage ethnic group had SEN support in 2021, and a further 5.6% had an EHC plan. The lowest rate for SEN support is 5.4% for the Chinese ethnic group and for EHC plans is 2.3% among the Indian ethnic group. These groups are unchanged from 2020. 

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 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.

The school level data shows that in January 2021, there were 352 schools with SEN units (down from 361 in 2020) and 1,066 schools with a resourced provision (up from 1,028) 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 2021, Autistic Spectrum Disorder was the most prevalent type of need for which special schools were approved to make provision for, with 657 special schools recording this type of need. This is followed by Severe Learning Difficulty with 547 schools, and moderate learning difficulty with 511 schools.

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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If you have a media enquiry:

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If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

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