Fewer SEN pupils being identified since 2014 reforms

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The identification of SEN “appears to have fallen” since the introduction of the SEND Code of Practice in 2014 and the move to Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

An analysis by FFT Education Datalab followed the first cohort of pupils to be admitted to Reception under the new Code of Practice in 2014/15 all the way through to the end of year 7 in 2021/22.

This cohort consists of around 647,000 pupils, covering state mainstream, special and alternative provision schools.

It finds that 9.5% of pupils were classified as having SEN (both EHCPs and School Support) in Reception. This figure increases to 19.3% in year 6 before falling back to 18.3% in year 7.

It means that by the end of year 7, 29.1% of the pupils had been classified as SEN (36% of boys and 22% of girls) during their school career to date.

Types of SEN recorded include autism, specific learning difficulties, and social, emotional, and mental health needs (SEMH). However, the most common SEN recorded was speech, language, and communication needs (SLCN), although incidence fell after year 1 and it was common for pupils recorded with SLCN to subsequently be recorded as having different primary types of SEN.

However, a concerning finding within the analysis, which has been compiled by Dave Thomson, chief statistician at FFT, is that the proportion of pupils being classified as SEN has fallen under the new system.

A previous cohort studied by FFT – the 2004/05 cohort which reached year 11 in 2016/17 – had 41% of pupils recorded as having SEN by the end of year 7.

The analysis states: "The identification of special educational needs appears to have fallen since the introduction of the new code of practice."

Under the new Code of Practice, the system of statements of SEN was replaced with EHCPs (extended up to the age of 25) while the categories of School Action and School Action Plus were replaced with a single category of School Support.

The new Code of Practice and system of EHCPs has been beset by challenges. In 2019, the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into SEND provision warned that families were being exhausted by the “adversarial and bureaucratic” nature of the system.

MPs on the committee warned that funding was inadequate to meet demand. The report said that at school level, children on SEN Support in particular are being let down and their needs going unmet. As such, desperate families are applying for EHCPs, leading to huge pressure on the system.

A consultation over the recent SEND Green Paper closed in July and we are currently awaiting the government’s response. The Green Paper sets out a number of ideas for reform, including New local SEND partnerships bringing together education, health and care partners with local government to produce a local inclusion plan.

The latest figures (DfE, 2022) show that requests for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) fell to 75,951 in 2020 following four years of increases. However, as the impact of Covid-19 eased, requests then jumped by 23% to 93,302 in 2021. Overall, there are now 473,255 children and young people on ECHPs.

Last term, the Local Government Association said that the “spiraling” costs of providing SEN support is outstripping the budgets councils have available.

Applications for EHCPs are assessed and granted/refused by local authorities and mainstream schools are expected to meet the needs of any EHCP students on roll using a notional £6,000 per student from the high needs element of the National Funding Formula as well as any “top-up” amount provided to the school by the local authority for individual pupils.

  • DfE: Reporting Year 2022: Education, health and care plans, May 2022: https://bit.ly/3hDGAR0
  • DfE: Open consultation: SEND review: right support, right place, right time, March 2022 (closed July 1, 2022): https://bit.ly/36XJ61l
  • Thomson: The incidence of special educational needs since the introduction of the new Code of Practice, FFT Education Datalab, October 2022: https://bit.ly/3rPaNR2

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