Identifying pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, a new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI), funded by the Nuffield Foundation  provides evidence, for the first time, at a national level to support claims of disjointed and unequal support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as has long been claimed by parents.

The  research found that there are ‘deeply concerning’ inconsistencies in how in children with SEND in England are identified and supported. Key findings of the report include:

  • There is a postcode lottery for accessing SEND support, with access to specialised provision for children heavily determined by the school they attend, rather than their individual needs
  • There is a fundamental mismatch between how schools and local authorities identify pupils with SEND. Local authorities largely identify SEND consistent with children’s personal, social and emotional development – qualities that are particularly important for later life, such as education and employment outcomes. However, schools appear to focus mostly on communication, language and literacy skills when assessing a child for SEND.
  • Pupils attending academy schools are less likely to be identified as having SEND
  • For children with more severe needs, those living in areas in England with very few academy schools are ten times more likely to be identified with SEND by their local authority than similar children living in areas that have many academy schools.
  • At a school level, children attending academy schools are also half as likely to be identified as having SEND by their local authority than those attending other schools.
    Taken together, and after controlling for a range of factors, this shows that these education settings may be overlooking pupils who require SEND support. With data covering the period of two years after schools have become academies, further research on SEND identification in academy schools should be undertaken, to see if these trends persist.
  • The area that a child lives in can also influence the level of SEND support they receive For more severe needs, children from the most disadvantaged local authorities are less likely to be identified with SEND than children of similar backgrounds who live in more affluent areas. Families in poorer areas appear to have more limited support for their children and are likely to be subject to higher thresholds for accessing support.
  • Conversely, at a lower, neighbourhood level, children in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods had substantially higher odds of being identified with SEND. However, significantly, within these poorer neighbourhoods, the most affluent children are most likely to be identified with SEND, indicating that better-off families are relatively more successful at securing support for their children.
  • Many of the most vulnerable children in society are less likely to access support for SEND. There is strong evidence that the system of identifying and supporting SEND is poorly adapted to the lives of many children – particularly those with less stable lives who do not remain in one education setting or area.
  • Children who moved around schools or neighbourhoods at an early stage in their lives are less likely to be identified with SEND than their otherwise similar peers.
  • Children who experienced frequent absences from school are less likely to be identified as having SEND, even though children who are already identified with SEND are known to have higher absence rates on average.
  • Children who have suffered abuse or neglect (those with child protection plans) also have a reduced chance of being identified with SEND compared with otherwise similar children and securing support for any additional learning needs.

Policy recommendations

The system for identifying and supporting pupils with SEND requires a number of careful reforms to improve consistency, accessibility, accountability and resource allocation, including:

  • Improvements in assessing SEND within schools.
  • Increased specialist training and support for teachers and school leaders.
  • A national framework setting out minimum standards of support for children with SEND in mainstream schools.
  • A greater focus in primary schools on the role of children’s personal, social and emotional development.
  • Concerted efforts from authorities to reaching highly vulnerable children who require specialised learning support, who may be less visible in the system.
  • A SEND funding system that is far more responsive to pupils’ needs.

Professor Adam Boddison, CEO of nasen, a charity that supports those working with children with SEND, said, “One of the most significant factors contributing to the variation in identification of SEND is the lack of any national articulation of what ordinarily-available provision should consist of. This means that the inclusive schools that are proactive with identification become SEND magnets, whilst it is difficult to hold the non-inclusive schools to account. ”

Ian Noon, head of policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society, described the report as ‘extremely concerning’ and said that it sadly confirms what parents of deaf children have been saying for years. All of these children are entitled to effective, tailored support at school and their teachers should get the specialist advice they need. This simply isn’t being delivered consistently and it’s the children who are left to struggle on alone.

The evidence is as clear as it is damning. It now falls to the Government to take stock of these findings, address a system in crisis and make real, lasting change through the upcoming SEND Review.’

To read the EPI’s summary and access the full report please see Website Link

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