Identifying pupils with special educational needs and disabilities

This report from UK think tank the Education Policy Institute studies the inconsistencies in how children with SEND in England are identified and supported.

A new study funded by the Nuffield Foundation, highlights significant inconsistencies in how children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England are identified and supported. The research, which is the first study to fully quantify how SEND support varies nationally, shows that access to support is decided by a “postcode lottery” – with the chances of receiving SEND support from the school or from the local authority largely dictated by the school that a child attends, rather than their individual circumstances. Over a million children are currently registered as having special educational needs in England – with as many 4 in 10 of all pupils recorded as having SEND at some point during their time at school. The longitudinal research, which tracks hundreds of thousands of pupils from a single year group through primary school, reveals that the huge variation in SEND support for children can be explained by inconsistent approaches to identifying children. The findings show that pupils attending academy schools are less likely to be identified with SEND compared to other similar pupils, indicating that pupils’ needs may have been overlooked in these settings. Children living in the most disadvantaged areas of the country are less likely to be formally recognised as having SEND than similar pupils in more affluent areas, highlighting how there is a “rationing of support” in many areas of high need. The report also shows that many vulnerable pupils are more likely to be subject to SEND “under-identification”. Those moving schools and those frequently out of school, along with children who have suffered abuse or neglect, are all shown to have a reduced chance of being identified with SEND compared with otherwise similar children. With the system for supporting SEND highly reliant on regular access to pupils over time, researchers conclude that the pandemic will likely have aggravated existing problems seen in SEND identification, with increasing numbers of more vulnerable children who need support falling under the radar of schools and authorities.

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