Gareth Copeland: 4.5 minute read

SEND figures have increased for the third consecutive year in a row

For the third consecutive year running, the number of pupils with special education needs (SEND) has increased, moving from 14.6% to 14.9% at the start of this year. This headline figure has been garnered from the Department of Education and shows that more than 1.3 million pupils are now classed as having Special Education Needs.

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The questions relating to this figure are numerous but the centre of which is, why? Why have the figures continue to increase and are these pupils receiving the support they need?

What is SEND?

SEND stands for Special Educational Needs and Disability.

Back in 2014, all local authorities were required to publish information on how they were supporting children with SEND. This was referred to as the ‘Local Offer’. Under this offer, schools are required to publish information on how they support pupils with SEND. This is important as parents want to have confidence that the school they are entrusting their children to is prepared.

They want to see that the school is inclusive and accessible for all children in the community, as it is very easy for children with SEND to become marginalised. Schools have a duty to provide the best possible care for their children and parents want to see this. School teachers are used to providing lessons and activities that are aimed at all the pupils in their class.

A ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching is no longer appropriate, with the average class level now reaching more than 30 pupils per class. You need to ensure that the lesson being taught is tailored to all abilities but you do still come across situations in which a child’s needs are difficult to accommodate in the classroom. At this point, the child is typically classed as having ‘special needs’.

With an hour lesson and more than 30 children per class, each teacher has less than two minutes to spend with each child. This makes it understandable that special needs are not picked up sooner. However, the fact that the figures are increasing, contradicts this point. What can be seen here is that despite the class sizes increasing, special needs are still being identified, so why are the figures increasing?

What the figures don’t show

All statistics are written from a certain point of view and can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the individual. Digging into the data in more detail we can see that there was an equivalent increase in the number of those in receipt of an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP). These are for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support.

There are now more than 271,000 children and young people in England that are in receipt of an EHCP, up 0.2% on the previous year. That’s the headline figure but is it completely accurate? Some say no because data from further education colleges and specialist placements are not included. In addition to this, those who are in private nurseries do not have their figures added to the statistics.

By these tokens, the figures will most likely be higher than what is reported and the suppression of which may be a way in which the government can promote that they are tackling the delays associated with EHCPs. We wrote about this earlier in the year, when some children had waited more than 1,000 days for an assessment to take place.

Do these children receive the support that they need?

By not considering the full picture you are able to show that you are completing more EHCPs and getting on top of the situation when in reality, there are more people with special education needs than ever. Many of whom never have their needs met and many of whom wait years to be assessed.

These delays can be harmful to their development. With increasing needs being identified across the world, there has never been a better time in which to ensure that children’s needs are met. Receiving the support they need now will lead to them living a better life, so then, why are these needs not being identified and acted upon?

We all know the answer to this question because it is the same question that plagues all frontline services. Increased demand combined with reduced resources means that waiting times have continued to rise and in some cases, schools have been forced to ask for money from parents. It is a sad state of affairs when these cuts and delays affect the children the most when these assessments and processes are designed to protect them.

The resultant delays placing additional stress on the family, the child and the teacher. Without effective funding and support, many teachers are being required to fill the gap. They end up spending additional time with the pupils who have special needs. The time that is then taken away from the rest of the class, when a teaching assistant or special education needs co-ordinator would be better trained and better placed to assist.

Technology can assist

Processes can be improved through the use of technology. Too often we hear that poor administration and inadequate gathering of evidence is responsible for delays in the SEND process. Then when the assessment has taken place, the required support is unavailable due to budgetary concerns. You should not cut corners when it comes to a child’s long-term health and wellbeing. This is not person-centred.

In reality, many SEND teams are using systems first implemented 20 years ago to administer this statutory process and rely on spreadsheets to plug the gaps and monitor important timescales and deadlines. This is not good enough when you consider the current generation of technology that has arrived, with its ability to streamline these processes.

By utilising technology that is built around mobile responsive design, that is available from anywhere, at any time you can create efficiencies. These efficiencies in the system support effective collaboration through high-quality plans. Whether that comes from the process, or the recording and approval. Re-inventing the process is not only possible it is advisable as by doing so you can take advantage of current methodologies and technology.

These changes will go a long way to addressing the delays that are occurring with EHCPs. By utilising technology, you can battle the oncoming tide that is population growth, in which the number of those requiring, EHCPs will continue to increase. You will be able to assess them quicker in order for them to get the help that they need, thus ensuring the best possible life.


SEND figures have increased over the last three years and this is due to many factors. Population growth is one of the most prominent, combined with an increased understanding of children’s needs, this has resulted in more EHCP plans being required. The increased need for these plans has resulted in delays for some families of up to four years.

By utilising technological solutions, combined with a re-think in the manner for which services are delivered, you can place the pupil first. The child is the most important factor here and getting them the help they need, quicker. Relying on teachers that are stretched to the breaking point is not the answer when you consider the time they have each day.

Much like every other frontline service, we need to work together in order to improve services for those we care about. Whether that is in education, health or care. It doesn’t matter. We need to re-think how frontline services are implemented to ensure that assessments such as those being required for SEND are done so in the most efficient manner possible. Time is essential when you consider the life of a child. The sooner they get help, the better.