Last month I published a blogpost about Progress 8 scores for pupils with special educational needs met by a statement or education, health and care plan (EHCP).

A throwaway remark that “over half of pupils with SEN met by a statement/EHCP in the 2017 Year 11 cohort were in special schools” surprised a number of readers who know far more about provision for pupils with SEND than I do. Cue much double-checking of my calculations. Reassured, I thought I’d take a look at what’s being going on over the last few years.

Department for Education data on SEN provision shows that the proportion of pupils with statements/EHCPs attending special schools has been increasing since 2007 [PDF]. By contrast, the percentage attending secondary schools has fallen by a similar amount. The percentage attending primary schools has remained fairly constant and there has been a small increase in the percentage attending other settings such as independent schools, alternative provision and non-maintained special schools. These trends are displayed in the chart below.

But this chart doesn’t tell the whole story. A population bulge has been working its way through primary schools. So while the number of pupils with statements/EHCPs in state-funded primary schools has remained fairly constant since 2007, the total primary-age school population has increased by over 10%.

This can be best illustrated by looking at the number of pupils in Years 1 to 6 with statements/EHCPs as a percentage of all pupils in Years 1 to 6. In the chart below we can see that this figure has been falling in mainstream primary schools. In special schools, it remained fairly constant until around 2011, since when it has been rising at an increasingly quick rate.

Now let’s do the same for pupils in Years 7 to 11. This shows much the same thing, although the percentage of pupils in mainstream schools has fallen at a faster rate.

Overall, in number terms, the total number of secondary-age pupils with statements/EHCPs who attend special schools has remained fairly constant, rising slightly (by 8%) since 2011 even though the number of secondary-age pupils has fallen slightly over the same period (and the rate of secondary pupils with EHCPs has fallen). This is best shown in the next chart.

The population bulge that started working its way through the primary sector around 10 years ago is now moving through the secondary sector. The latest DfE projections for Years 7 to 11 estimate that the state-funded secondary age (11-15) population will grow by 15% (427,000 pupils) between 2018 and 2027.

Let’s say 3.6% will have EHCPs – broadly the current figure. That’s another 15,000 pupils compared to 2018. The underlying data [CSV] behind the population projections anticipate that special schools will take 9,000 of them. Given that the average special school has 117 pupils, that’s almost 80 schools’ worth. A cap on the number of special free school bids has been lifted as part of plans announced by DfE before Christmas.

Presumably it is anticipated that the remaining 6,000 pupils will go to mainstream schools or other settings such as independent schools, non –maintained special schools and alternative provision. If mainstream schools do increase numbers of pupils with EHCPS this will  reverse many years of declining numbers of pupils with statements/EHCPs.

The three questions this raises are whether:

  1. there is still the expertise and resource within the mainstream sector to take these pupils on;
  2. there is sufficient funding to meet the expectation that mainstream schools are responsible for the first £6,000 of additional funding for pupils with SEND and, relatedly, whether the current funding arrangements based on lagged pupil numbers is sufficiently responsive to rising numbers of SEND pupils; and
  3. the performance of pupils with EHCPs as measured by Progress 8 acts as a disincentive to their enrolment at mainstream schools.

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