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NAHT says pupils are being let down as figures reveal 1 in 6 in typical primary class have special educational needs

School leaders' union NAHT has responded to today's new figures for the 2023/24 academic year showng increases in the numbers and proportions of school pupils with special educational needs (SEN) - continuing a trend seen since at least 2015/16. NAHT analysis has revealed the figures mean on average five children - one in six - in a typical state primary school class of 30 now have special educational needs.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary, said: “Behind these figures are pupils who are in many cases being let down by a systemic SEN funding crisis, simply unable to access the support and education they deserve.

“Schools are facing a perfect storm in which funding to support children with special educational needs - whether or not they have an Education Health and Care Plan - has failed to keep pace with growing demand.

“Many schools are experiencing severe financial difficulties and need to use more and more of their funding each year to ensure pupils with SEN get the best possible support, and the £10,000 per pupil funding received by special schools has not increased since it was introduced in 2013. Across the country, all types of school face a postcode lottery when it comes to securing additional money from local authorities for pupils with the greatest needs, with many councils themselves facing really difficult budget pressures and increasing numbers accumulating SEN funding deficits.

“School are experiencing challenges securing specialist support due to shortages of experts like educational psychologists and speech and language therapists, while parents are often forced to take local authorities to tribunal to get the place they want for their child due to a lack of capacity. Support is too often dictated by the resources available rather than by what children really need.

“It is vital the next government prioritises urgent action to address this crisis. That needs to start with action to write-off high-needs budget deficits, a ‘needs analysis’ of the funding required to support pupils with SEN in both mainstream and special schools, and a review of place planning, specialist places and admissions to ensure every child can attend the school best suited to meeting their long-term needs.”

The figures show the number of pupils with an Education Health and Care Plan has increased by 11.6% year on year to 434,354, while the proportion with a plan has risen from 4.3% to 4.8%.

The number of pupils with special educational needs but no plan has gone up by 4.7% to 1,238,851 with this proportion now 13.6%, up from 13%.

This means there are 1,673,205 pupils in schools in England with SEN in 2023/24.

First published 20 June 2024