Special Needs Pupils in Schools: Why Numbers Are Rising

Special Needs Pupils in Schools: Why Numbers Are Rising

Wondering why there seems to be more and more pupils with complex special needs in your class?

The number of pupils with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) in England has increased for the third year in a row. Nearly 15% of the total pupil population has SEND.

Over half of these pupils (primary-aged) are taught in mainstream schools. 

In fact, over 17,000 pupils were given an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) in the last year alone.

Many of these pupils have 'complex' special needs, meaning it's difficult to meet their needs in a mainstream school.

However, many specialist schools have long waiting lists. This can mean that more and more pupils with complex needs are being taught in mainstream schools.

Here are three reasons why the number of pupils with complex SEND is higher than ever before.

1. More children are being diagnosed with autism 

The way ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) is diagnosed has changed.

The scope has widened, so children who wouldn't have qualified in the past are getting diagnoses now.

In other words: if you cast a bigger net, you catch more fish.

A third of all pupils with an EHCP have a diagnosis of ASD. All these children will have complex needs Ė that's nearly 80,000 children across the country. 

Many of these pupils will be taught in mainstream schools and will need a lot of additional support.

(Without the right support, you may see a child with autism experiencing a meltdown in the classroom. If you'd like help knowing the difference, read our article on the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum).

2. Higher survival rates in extremely premature babies

1 in every 13 babies are born prematurely - approximately 60,000 babies a year. 

Improved knowledge of the needs of very pre-term babies means that 60% of babies born at 24 weeks survive. 

To put that in context, pregnant women in Great Britain can legally have an abortion at 23 weeks.

In fact, some hospitals will try to save babies born as early as 23 weeks. However, half of babies born before 26 weeks will have a severe disability.

These can include:

  • cerebral palsy
  • blindness
  • deafness
  • extremely low IQ

One study found babies born before 27 weeks' gestation had a 30% chance of developing autism (compared to 1% delivered at full term).

The number of babies born prematurely is increasing year on year. This is due to the success of fertility treatments such as IVF often resulting in a multiple pregnancy and the increasing national average age of first time mums. 

3. Greater awareness of SEN by parents, teachers and GPs

There has been a spotlight on SEND in the media recently.

This means parents are more aware of:

  • What complex special needs might look like
  • What help their child may be entitled to

This means they're more likely to pursue the correct support for their child, through both health and education services.

Training opportunities in SEND related subjects for teaching staff have also increased. Teachers are more likely to identify when a pupil has complex needs, and highlight this to both the parent and the school's SENCo.

It's also being reported that school budgets are the tightest they've ever been.  As a result, many schools are laying off the very staff that support many children with SEN: teaching assistants.

Cuts mean crises and many parents will have no trust that their child will be helped unless they have an EHCP (an Education, Health and Care Plan).

This may be increasing the number of EHCP applications being made to local authorities.

How can I support these pupils? 

Make sure you have read the pupilís most up to date support or EHC plan. You need to know what their needs are so you can plan how to support them.

Look for the good! Yes, you may feel anxious when you read about the pupilís additional needs, but the key to working with children with behavioural special needs is forming relationships.

Do they love:

  • Football?
  • Little Mix? (This article will date quickly.)
  • Baking?

Find out their strengths and work with them. 

If you've never worked with a specific condition before, such as ADHD, ask to receive some additional professional development so that you can better understand their needs.

This could be online training if there is nothing nearby for you to attend.  (See our page on online whole school training or online support for individual teachers.)

Key takeaways 

  • The number of pupils with SEND has increased for the third consecutive year
  • Increased awareness around conditions such as ASD has meant more children are diagnosed
  • Increased number of premature babies has increased the number of children who have severe disabilities
  • Greater awareness from parents, teachers and GPs has led to increased identification of special needs


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