Special educational needs in England



This document provides information on the use of statistics published in the Special educational needs in England publication. It provides information on how the data is generally used as well as information on the quality and reliability of the data. There are a number of points to consider following the implementation of the SEND reforms under the Children and Families Act 2014.

Users and usage

The information collected on special educational needs via the school census provides the only pupil level source of data on children and young people with special educational needs. Ministers, Parliament, central and local government, external organisations and the public use this data to monitor government policies and their effectiveness.

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

Data sources

This publication contains information about pupils with special educational needs. This information is derived from school census returns, general hospital school census and school level annual school census (independent schools) returns made to the department in January each year. The school census contains pupil level data covering a wide range of information on the characteristics of schools and the pupils. Aggregate data is collected in the general hospital school census and SLASC on the number and some characteristics of their pupils .

Guidance on what is collected in each of the censuses can be found at the links below: 

School Census Guidance 

Independent School Census Guidance 

General Hospital School Census Guidance 

Schools return their data to the Department for Education via the COLLECT (Collections On-Line for Learning, Education, Children and Teachers) system. COLLECT has built-in validation rules which flag up data which is invalid or where the quality is questionable. This allows schools to identify errors and clean the data before they submit it to DfE. Users are encouraged to clean all errors and double-check data where queries are flagged. Users can add notes to their return if there is a genuine reason for “unusual” data. 

Once all users have submitted and cleaned their data, final datasets are created. These datasets, along with a school level summary dataset, are available to download on the publication page with a metadata document that contains a list of the variables and their definitions.


Free school meals 

The figures reported here are based on those pupils known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals. As the data published here is reported by schools, if a pupil comes from a family that would meet the eligibility criteria, but does not report this to the school, then they are not reported here as eligible for free school meals. 

From September 2014 all infant pupils in state-funded schools have been entitled to a free school meal. 

Free school meals are available to pupils who attend sixth forms attached to a maintained school, as long as the course of study began before the pupil reached age 18. Free school meal eligibility relates to those who meet the eligibility criteria and make a claim. 

Ethnic group 

Pupils who have been classified according to their ethnic group. Those classified as other than White British are defined as minority ethnic. 

First language 

The language to which a child was initially exposed during early development and continues to be exposed in the home or in the community. Exposure to a language at home is not an indication of a pupil’s proficiency at speaking English.


The school census return changed to take account of the implementation of the SEND reforms introduced in September 2014. More specific points are outlined below:

Special educational needs provision codes

The codes used in the SEN provision field within the School census are shown below:

CodeSEN provision
SStatement (discontinued 2019) 
EEducation, Health and Care (EHC) plan
KSEN support 

Transfers to EHC plans 

The transfer of statements to an EHC plan was due to take place by April 2018. Analysis of the data suggests some schools have recorded some or all of their pupils who were previously recorded as ‘statement’, as ‘EHC plan’ regardless of whether a formal needs assessment (transfer review) has been completed and a final EHC plan issued. Because of this, we have presented combined figures for pupils with a statement and those with an EHC plan within the publication.

SEN units and Resourced provision

Within the school level dataset, a flag has been derived to indicate whether the school contains an SEN Unit or a Resourced Provision. Where a school has indicated at the pupil level that a pupil is taught in a SEN unit or Resourced provision, this has been interpreted as the school having a SEN unit or resourced provision.

Some discrepancies with the data on SEN units on resourced provisions have previously been identified at a local level, hence caution should be taken in interpreting changes year-on-year, and differences between areas. 

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 in to the data collection. This has resulted in significant changes to the data series and as a result comparisons to previous years are not recommended. Figures for previous years are available in previous releases, but a time series is not presented from 2020. Full information on SEN units and resourced provisions is available in the school level underlying data file that accompanies this release.

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 the 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 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 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 education, health and care (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 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.

Primary type of need

The following primary types of need are currently used:

  • Specific Learning Difficulty
  • Moderate Learning Difficulty
  • Severe Learning Difficulty
  • Profound & Multiple Learning Difficulty
  • Social, Emotional and Mental Health
  • Speech, Language and Communication Need
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Visual Impairment
  • Multi-Sensory Impairment
  • Physical Disability
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • Other

Primary type of need is collected for those pupils on SEN support or with an EHC plan. The coverage since 2015 is different from previous years. 

Prior to the introduction of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provisions in the Children and Families Act 2014 on 1 September 2014, pupils were registered as being on School Action or School Action Plus. School Action was used where a school identified that action needed to be taken to meet a special educational need and could be provided within the school. School Action Plus was used where School Action could not meet the requirements of the pupil and external support was also required. 

Pupils who were on School Action were not required to have a primary type of need recorded. From 2015 pupils who were on School Action who have transferred to SEN support will be recorded as having a primary type of need. This led to an increase in the number of pupils recorded as having a primary type of need from 2015 to 2016. No pupils have been recorded as School Action since 2015. 

There were changes to the classification of type of need in 2015 when the previous code of ‘Behaviour, emotional and social difficulties (BESD)’ was removed. A new code ‘Social, emotional and mental health (SEMH)’ was introduced, although this was not intended to be a direct replacement. 

The code ‘SEN support but no specialist assessment of type of need’ was also introduced in 2015. Due to the changes in coverage and classification, it is not possible to produce a direct comparison with data prior to 2015. 

For a more complete description of the broad areas of the needs listed, please see the Section 6 of the SEND Code of Practice, ‘Identifying SEN in Schools’

Help and support

Contact us

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

Special educational needs statistics team

Contact name: Sean Gibson

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone: 020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

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

Telephone: 037 0000 2288

Opening times:
Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays)