Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report

3  SEN: Facts and figures

Facts and figures

88. A full statistical analysis of special educational needs can be found in the Annex. The following is a summary of key findings. Full references are in the Annex.








 mainstream schools resourced provision, units & special classes in mainstream schools maintained special schools non-maintained & ind. special schools
ENGLAND (average)51.9 7.732.8 4.6
In individual authorities
Minimum18.9 0.00.0 0.4
Median51.8 6.532.0 4.2
Maximum73.0 42.860.0 19.2
Source: SEN2 survey, January 2005, DfES
  • Table 1 shows that the percentage of pupils placed in maintained special schools varies from 0% to 60% across different local authorities. The percentage in maintained mainstream schools varies from 19% to 73%. The variation across local authorities in placing pupils in independent special schools was from 0.4% to over 19%.

89. This is a remarkable level of variation and demonstrates the extent to which Local Authorities decide their own strategies for the provision of children with SEN. As Mark Rogers , Director of Children's Services at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, described to the Committee:

    "we have 150 systems around the English [...]authorities for assessing children"[90]

90. What is even more concerning is that the DfES memorandum identify that "there are still variations in the availability and quality of planning and provision for children with SEN and disabilities."[91]

91. The Audit Commission in 2002[92] found that there was unacceptable variation in provision between different parts of the country and they continue to be "especially concerned about pupils with low incidence needs (such as autism and multi-sensory impairment) and those with a disability, who are potentially the most disadvantaged pupils in the educational system".[93] Ofsted in 2004 also found that a "lack of strategic planning was common and services available in any one area varied considerably. [94]  Different groups of pupils with similar needs received different levels of support depending on where they lived which was unacceptable."


92. Young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD)[95] and autism highlight particular examples of where the 1978 Warnock framework is being stretched and failing to meet the needs of children. Children with SEBD and autism are the fastest growing categories of SEN.

93. As the parent representative group Network 81 describe: "the lack of understanding of conduct disorders, behavioural, and emotional needs is quite unbelievable. Many children are labelled as 'naughty', 'badly brought up', 'defiant' by teaching staff who lump all 'bad' behaviour together[...]"[96]

94. It is interesting to note from the statistical analysis of SEN in the Annex that behaviour, emotional, and social difficulties (BESD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are now high incidence types of special needs but there relatively few pupils in special schools (around a third in each case). This could be because such children are being effectively included in mainstream schools, or it could be that the system has been slow to re-structure to meet the changing needs of pupils with particular types of special needs.

95. It is widely recognised that there is a strong correlation between exclusions and children with SEN—particularly those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and autistic behaviour. The Committee finds it unacceptable that such a well known problem continues to occur. The Government should enhance existing, and improve alternative, forms of provision, training and resources rather than using an increasingly punitive approach for these children and families involved.

96. Schools need better guidance and staff training in dealing with disruptive behaviour by children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, particularly Asperger's Syndrome, and social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties. Schools should give careful consideration to these children in their behaviour strategies and make appropriate adjustments in disciplinary responses especially when considering exclusion. This needs to be backed up by closer DfES guidance and local authority monitoring, details of which could be collated by either Ofsted or the Schools Commissioner, with a view to urgent and substantial reduction in the numbers of exclusions.


97. The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) recognise, however, that "there has been major progress in providing disabled children and young people with more equitable educational opportunities and a steady improvement in educational outcomes, which show a faster annual increase in achievement of GCSE grades A-C and equivalent over the last six years by disabled people than non-disabled people."[98]

Existing legislation

SEN legislation

98. The Education Act 1981 established local authorities' basic duties towards children with SEN[99] as being:

  • to assess children who have, or probably have, special educational needs which cannot be met by their school;
  • when assessment confirms that a child's special educational needs cannot be met by their school, to issue a Statement of Special Educational Needs which describes those needs and specifies the educational provision necessary to meet them; and
  • to arrange the special educational provision specified in a Statement.

99. Evidence given to the Committee in both written memoranda and oral evidence sessions has suggested that the crux of the problem with the existing SEN system is the nature of the legal duties local authorities have towards children with SEN. Local authorities do not just have a discretionary duty, they have a statutory duty—therefore are legally obliged—to provide for the needs of a child with SEN once those needs are identified. There is an inbuilt conflict of interest in that it is the duty of the local authority both to assess the needs of the child and to arrange provision to meet those needs, and all within a limited resource. The link must be broken between assessment and funding of provision.

100. Focus Learning articulated the views of many when they described the situation to this Committee as follows: "the intention of SEN legislation is good, and if widely practised, would be beneficial to SEN pupils. Unfortunately there are several major drawbacks[...] (including) the system lacks effective enforcement procedures, there is no mechanism in place for ensuring that available funds go to the pupils who need them, [...] the end result is that trying to obtain SEN 'statement funding' places a heavy time and cost burden on schools with no certainty of securing SEN funds however deserving the case. The system almost forces local authorities, schools and parents to adopt an adversarial stance. Although suitable for a criminal court, it seems quite inappropriate for deciding how best to help a SEN child."[100]


101. As the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) highlight in their submission, "the difference in definitions of Special Educational Needs and Disability, and the different legislative frameworks in which they operate, have caused some difficulties."[101]

102. It is the case that "not all disabled pupils and students have 'learning difficulties' or 'SEN'. Similarly, pupils and students deemed to have learning difficulties or SEN are not all disabled. Yet policy, regulatory and funding frameworks frequently address the two areas interchangeably because the 'groups' overlap. Understandable though this might be, it is important to recognise that the underpinning theory, direction of legislation, and actions required of providers to comply are significantly different."[102]

Disability legislation

103. Broadly speaking disability rights are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) extended the DDA to education (including a Disability Equality Duty since DDA 2005). The duties under the Disability Discrimination Act are there to ensure that disabled pupils are not discriminated against and so seek to promote equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled pupils. From September 2002, it has been unlawful for schools to discriminate against a child for a reason related to their disability in admissions, education and associated services (such as school trips, the curriculum, teaching and learning, school sports and the serving of school meals), and exclusions.

SEN legislation

104. The Education Act 1996 says that "a child has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her." This is provided under the SEN Framework, including in some cases a statement of special educational need (SEN). The SEN Framework is there to identify and meet any additional educational needs of children. A disability might give rise to a learning difficulty that calls for special educational provision to be made if it prevents or hinders the disabled child from accessing education.

105. The DRC memorandum explained that "the intention of SENDA was for the DDA to sit alongside the SEN framework[...] as a 'jigsaw' of provision. However, some evidence suggests that the two systems have not been working alongside each other effectively and there are those whose needs are falling between the gap between the DDA duties and the provisions of the SEN Framework. A fundamental problem is the difference between the thinking behind the two systems, with the SEN Framework emphasising 'meeting needs' and the DDA emphasising making reasonable adjustments."[103]

Disability Equality Duty

106. The DRC reports that "duties to increase access to the curriculum, adjustments to physical features and accessible information have been developed separately with local authorities under the accessibility planning duties. Although these plans were expected to be in place by April 2003, the Ofsted report in 2004 found that over half of the schools they surveyed did not have access plans in place.[104] Only four out of ten schools surveyed in the same report had satisfactory planning for improved access to buildings and few had planned access to the curriculum."[105]

107. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 has introduced a duty on all public authorities to promote equality for disabled people. The new Disability Equality Duty will be considerably more onerous than existing accessibility planning duties. As the DRC explain, "to translate this (duty) into action, there is a specific duty, which sets out what public authorities should do to plan, deliver, and evaluate action to eliminate discrimination and promote equality, and to report on the activity that they undertake. (Schools) will have to produce a Disability Equality Scheme (DES) to set out what action they will take. As part of their DES, schools will have to assess the impact of policies and practices that directly or indirectly affect disabled children and young people. Where potential unlawful discrimination is identified, the school will need to show the steps that they plan to take to remove the causes of this potential discrimination."[106]

108. The DRC report that "although the various strands of legislation are all aimed at promoting inclusive practice, the relatively recent development of the DDA means that awareness of the DDA duties in schools is low. Many schools and other education providers indicate that they need assistance in fully addressing disability as an equalities issue across all aspects of their provision. Schools have welcomed the possibility of training on both the DDA and disability equality generally. In response to this, the DfES have been working with the DRC and a number of other agencies to develop a resource for schools on making reasonable adjustments and accessibility planning."[107]

109. Recent research undertaken by the University of Birmingham showed that in a survey of parents there was good awareness of the DDA (nearly 50% were aware of the DDA) but that there was much confusion among parents of children with disabilities or SEN about exactly whether DDA applied to their child and if so what the DDA meant, in practice, for their child.[108]

110. There is a great deal of work still to do to pull together the disability and SEN agendas and legislation. The Government should be prioritising this important work.

111. In light of evidence from witnesses that in many schools there is a significant lack of understanding of their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act and a failure to implement the Disability Equality Duty fully, we await improved and more specific guidance from the DfES which is due to be published shortly. Guidance should pay particular attention to ensuring that all teachers and staff have an appropriate awareness of their duties and that this is not left to a single disability officer within schools.

Government expenditure on SEN

112. According to the DfES memorandum "information collected from local authorities [...] [suggests that] their planned spending on SEN nationally in 2004-05 was around £3.8 billion and spending of about £4.1 billion is planned for 2005-06 (an increase of 7.8%)—some 13% of all education spending."[109]

113. It goes on to say that "the figure of £4.1 billion includes about £1.4 billion for maintained special schools, £2.0 billion for mainstream schools, £481 million for placements at independent and non-maintained special schools and £264 million for local authority duties such as educational psychologists, administration and monitoring, parent partnership and child protection."[110]

114. In addition to this, approximately half of the expenditure associated with home to school transport is spent on transporting children with special educational needs. Between 2000-01 and 2002-03, total expenditure on school transport increased by over 18%, from £560 million to £662 million—approximately £330 million, therefore, is spent on transporting children with SEN. [111]

115. The Minister highlighted that:

    "the cost of maintained special schools in this financial year 2005-06 [is] £1.243 billion as against £4.1 billion, which is local authority budgeted expenditure on special educational needs."[112]

    "The spending on maintained special schools has risen by 6.7% on average for each of the last three years. Last year it rose by 7.23%."[113]

116. The Minister added that:

    "[...]spending this year on non-maintained independent special schools is £481 million, which is 9% up in one year, and compares with £309 million in 2002 [...] there has been a very substantial increase in spending on non-maintained and independent special schools[...]"[114]

Voices of young people with SEN and disabilities

117. The UK is committed to including the voices of children and young people in evaluating their provision across all services following the UN Convention on Rights of the Child (Article 12). There has been a marked increase in including the voice of children with SEN or disabilities at a range of levels. We recommend that the Government continues to increase the role of children and young people in reviewing, planning and designing services.

118. This Committee is grateful to be able to include the voices of young disabled people through recent work done for the Participation in Education project, currently taking place at the University of Bristol, and the Powerful Voices Conferences in Ealing in 2004 and 2005.

119. Participation in Education is looking specifically at the involvement of the views of children with little or no communication skills. Findings from the first phase of research from the two-year research project at the University of Bristol showed that "a wide variety of often innovative and creative methods is being employed to involve children with little or no verbal communication in their education. However, [...] there are relatively low levels of involvement [...] (this) is a problematic area for many schools [...] and we believe that a need for further research and training has been demonstrated."[115]

120. The Powerful Voices Conferences held in Ealing in 2004 and 2005 were intending "to provide a platform for encouraging best practice in pupil involvement and to move to active participation of children and young people forward collectively."[116] The intention of the conferences, attended by hundreds of children and young people, was to encourage the development of a listening culture more broadly.

121. One of the key note speakers was James, a student with cerebral palsy, and another was Phillip, a student with Asperger's Syndrome—both described their experience of attending mainstream and specialist schools. When asked if it was hard moving from primary to secondary school, James replied "well, I had a lot of friends at my primary school, but I was quite happy to move on. I only went to primary school part-time and as I said I had lots of bad experiences with teachers, so I was very happy to move on to a place that was fully accessible, that had its own Special Needs Department, and had somewhere where we could socialise. It was a good mix for me. It was tough, but it was something I think as you get older you get ready for."

122. James also said that "if I was born 20 years ago I might not have had the opportunity to go to a mainstream school. I wouldn't have had the friends I've got now, so things have got a lot better, but we have got a long way to go." Stephen commented that "I would say teachers should get better training about how Asperger's Syndrome affects people and how to deal with it. They should get better knowledge of what to do. I think also I did make friends at high school and they did try and help me[...]"

Voices of parents of children with SEN and disabilities

123. The role of parents has a unique importance in relation to SEN issues. Too often, however, problems arise because parents feel ignored or that their views and preferences are not being given proper consideration under the current system. Many of the memoranda quoted examples of very poor communication between local authorities, schools, and parents.

124. Network 81, an organisation representing the views of parents said that "as an organisation which deals with parents on a daily basis, what is very concerning to us is the level of involvement, or should we say non-involvement, of parents in the education of their child and the lack of understanding from professionals of the skills of these parents, many of whom have become experts in the educational/medical/physical/mental/ emotional needs of their children."[117] They also said that "there is little evidence of initiatives to bring parents and school staff together to promote a greater understanding about SEN"

125. The DfES memorandum discusses "partnership with parents" but with no indication of how this might be achieved in practice.[118] Wiltshire Dyslexia Association, another parent's representative organisation, said: "it is an environment of conflict between parents and the professionals with whom they engage when seeking to get the necessary help for their child."[119]

126. A parent of a 16-year-old boy with Asperger's who participated in the Call You and Yours phone-in Programme on BBC Radio 4[120] on special educational needs, said that "he struggled in mainstream secondary school and experienced considerable bullying for his disabilities—as well as a lack of understanding of his problems by constantly changing staff. He learned to conceal his difficulties[...] he has dropped out of school, is very unhappy, has a drugs problem and is in trouble with the police."

127. A parent of a disabled child told the programme that "he is thriving from playing and learning alongside his non-disabled mates. I believe that all children learn tolerance and respect from each other through encountering difference." Another parent said that "unless my daughter, who has Down's syndrome, grows up with her peers in a mainstream school she will be excluded from society for the rest of her life."

128. Another parent of a son with Asperger's Syndrome told the programme "there is little or no training available in some areas of the country for teachers or teaching assistants to understand what special needs are, let alone learn how to deal with them."

Voices of teachers and other professionals

129. The Audit Commission report in 2002 found that many teachers feel ill-equipped to deal with SEN children in their classrooms. A TES survey showed that over a third of teachers had received no preparation during their initial teacher training course, and 23% said they had no more than one day's training. Just 12% of heads and 36% of teachers said their school had adequate resources to include children with special needs.[121]

130. A teacher told the Call You and Yours Programme on BBC Radio 4 that "I have not encountered any classroom teachers or LSAs (learning support assistants) who have received what they consider to be adequate training to deal with any of the children they are in charge of. [122] In fact the vast majority of teachers and LSAs have received no training at all [on SEN]."

131. A special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) told the programme that "there are still too many occasions where it is obvious that the idea of 'joined up' services linking health, social services and education is not happening." A GP told the programme that "in my area there is a three year wait for a child with a problem like possible autism to be assessed and get a diagnosis. Till then they do not get a proper statement of educational needs. Vital missed years for a young child."

132. Another teacher told the programme that "when I trained as a teacher in the late 1960s special needs teaching was a specialisation requiring a year's extra training. Before I retired in 2004 we were expected to be effective with pupils with a range of needs but without the requisite training."

133. We recommend that the Government urgently address the feeling of both parents and teachers that there is inadequate training and resourcing for dealing with SEN children in mainstream classrooms. We would give the highest priority to the need to radically improve SEN and disability training in initial teacher training, induction, and in the continuing professional development of all staff.

87   The 1.2 million children with SEN but without a statement of SEN are provided for within mainstream schools under the School Action and School Action Plus schemes. These are fully explained in the DfES Memorandum [SEN 178] and in the SEN Strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement. Back

88   These statistics refer specifically to the number of special schools and do not take into account special units attached to mainstream schools. Back

89   DfES Research Report Reducing Reliance on Statements: An Investigation into Local Authority Practice and Outcomes, 2004. RR508 Back

90   Q418 Back

91   SEN 178 Back

92   Audit Commission, Special Educational Needs - a mainstream issue, 2002 Back

93   SEN 173 Back

94   Ofsted, Special educational needs and disability; towards inclusive schools, 2004 Back

95   Normally referred to as BESD but SEBD is a better reflection of the priority of need for these young people. Back

96   SEN 64 Back

97   Labour Force Survey, Autumn 2004 Back

98   SEN 05 Back

99   These have remained unchanged despite subsequent amendments to the law (in 1993 and 2001). Back

100   SEN 98 Back

101   SEN 05 Back

102   Ibid Back

103   SEN 05 Back

104   Ofsted, Special educational needs and disability; towards inclusive schools, 2004 Back

105   SEN 05 Back

106   Ibid Back

107   Ibid Back

108   University of Birmingham, Professor Ann Lewis et al, Survey of parents and carers of disabled children and young people in Great Britain. Funded by the Disability Rights Comission. May 2006. Back

109   SEN 178 Back

110   SEN 178 Back

111   Education and Skills Committee, Third Report of Session 2003-04, The Draft School Transport Bill, HC 509-I Back

112   Q925 Back

113   Q924 Back

114   Q926 Back

115   University of Bristol, Participation in Education: findings of first phase of research. May 2006 Back

116   Ealing Council, Powerful Voices Conference, 2004 and 2005 Back

117   SEN 64 Back

118   SEN 178 Back

119   SEN 75 Back

120   SEN 232. Radio 4, Call You and Yours, between 8 and 22 February 2006 listeners were able to contribute comments to the programme in relation to SEN. Over 700 emails, calls, and letters were received. Back

121   Times Educational Supplement, 14 October 2005 Back

122   SEN 232. Radio 4, Call You and Yours, between 8 and 22 February 2006 listeners were able to contribute comments to the programme in relation to SEN. Over 700 emails, calls, and letters were received. Back

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