Special Needs


For several years there has been concern about the provision for children with special educational needs. Many parents have thought their children’s needs have not been met and there was a critical report by Ofsted in 2010. It said: “despite extensive statutory guidance, the consistency of the identification of special educational needs varied widely, not only between different local areas but also within them. For pupils identified for support at School Action level, the additional provision was often making up for poor whole-class teaching or pastoral support. Even for pupils at School Action Plus level and with statements, the provision was often not meeting their needs effectively, either because it was not appropriate or not of good quality or both”.

There followed a long period of proposals and consultation and the setting up of 20 pathfinders covering 31 local authorities and their Primary Care Trust (PCT) partners, which would test out the proposals. These reported during the process of legislation. The Education Select Committee carried out a pre-legislation scrutiny. In 2014 the Children and Families Act 2014 and the revised SEN Code of Practice were published.

The Act and the Code have brought in huge changes in the provision for children with special educational needs. They define a child or young person as having SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her. A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

  • has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or
  • has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions.

For children aged two or more, special educational provision is educational or training provision that is additional to or different from that made generally for other children or young people of the same age by mainstream institutions. For a child under two years of age, special educational provision means educational provision of any kind.

Two major changes are the extension of the Code of Practice to cover the 0-25 age range and for children with complex needs to have a plan involving health provision set up. Statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (which were used for post-16 year olds) have been replaced by Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC plans). SEN Support has replaced School Action and School Action Plus. The Code of Practice sets out how the EHC plans are to be drawn up with the child and the parent.

From September 2014 local authorities were required to have published a “local offer” to set out the services available to young people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). By that time they had to carry out extensive local collaboration involving parents and young people. By April 2018 all children and young people with statements are to have been transferred to an EHC plan. The time limit for setting up a new plan when one is needed is 20 weeks. The DfE has produced a parents' guide which sets out the requirements of the Code. A useful briefing for MPs gives the background to the reforms and also a summary of the changes.


2014 was the last year that an analysis of children with special educational needs was published in line with the requirements of the then SEN Information Act. This Act is now subsumed by the Children and Families Act. This analysis looked at SEN under various headings: characteristics of pupils with SEN; attainment of pupils with SEN; progression of pupils with SEN; activities up to age 19 for young people with SEN and absence and exclusions from school of pupils with SEN. In September 2015 the DfE announced that this analysis would not continue and this will mean that SEN data and associated commentary will no longer be collated from other source data. However, the DfE said: “We shall replace this with a document signposting users to all relevant releases, with a cover note on date of releases, to enable them to find existing data easily in a timely manner on gov.uk.”

A Statistical First Release published in July 2015 reported that there has been a decline in the proportion of pupils with SEN since 2010 when 21.1% of pupils had SEN. In January 2015 the number of pupils with SEN decreased from 1.49 million pupils (17.9%) in January 2014 to 1.30 million pupils (15.4%) in January 2015. The release said that this has occurred because the number of children with SEN without statements/EHC plans had declined, which may be due to more accurate identification of those with SEN following implementation of the SEND reforms.

The proportion of pupils with a statement/EHC plan has remained at 2.8% since 2007. In 2015 there was an increase from 2014 of 3,975 in the number of pupils with a statement/EHC plan to 236,165. Across all age groups and within state-funded primary, state-funded secondary and special schools 16.0% of boys are SEN Support compared to 9.2% of girls. This is down from 2014 when 19.2% of boys and 11.4% of girls had SEN without statements. The gender differences for those with statements or EHC plans remains similar to previous years with 4.1% of boys with a statement or EHC plan compared to 1.6% of girls.

Those aged 14 and 15 at 31 August 2014 are most likely to have a statement of SEN/EHC plan (3.9%). The proportion of nine and 10 year olds who have SEN support is 15.8%; these age groups have consistently had the highest rates of SEN in recent years. The decline in rates of SEN in January 2015 was highest for 12 year olds, with a fall of 4.1 percentage points compared to a fall of 2.7 percentage points for all pupils.

Current issues

Since the introduction of the new procedures the DfE has commissioned research to evaluate the changes. A report on the funding of SEN was published in July 2015. It found that the allocation of resources via the high needs block of the Dedicated Schools Grant was not meeting the locally identified needs as well as it should. The researchers made several recommendations, for example that “subject to more detailed modelling, the DfE should consider moving to a formula for the allocation of the high needs block to local authorities. Our analysis suggests a range of factors that might be used in such a formula, including factors related to deprivation, prior attainment, disability and children’s general health. We consider that a formula-based approach would be more objective, and easier to explain and understand, than the current arrangements. It could be rebased annually if desired, and would correlate better with a wider range of measures of need than the current funding distribution”. Also recommended was that “local authorities should work with their schools to agree a ‘core entitlement’ that all schools in a local area will provide for children and young people with SEN as a matter of course. This agreement should be published as part of the local offer.”

It is possible that funding changes might be included in the revision of school funding which was announced in October 2015 in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

As the changes are being implemented reaction from interested organisations has been mixed. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have been consulting until recently on their proposals for inspecting how local areas are meeting their responsibilities for children and young people with SEND. A new form of inspection will begin in May 2016. Inspectors will evaluate how local authorities, nurseries, schools, further education establishments and health services identify children and young people with special educational needs. They will also evaluate how well they provide services such as speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and mental health services to meet these needs.

January 2016

Back to Special Needs data