Inclusive education – UK Government assessment
Despite the implementation of wide-ranging reforms since 2014, children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities (SEND) still face barriers to the enjoyment of the right to education. The number of children with SEN being educated outside mainstream schools is growing, and over 3,000 new places are being created in special schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant additional challenges, including a reduction in support. It is too early to assess whether recovery efforts are sufficient to meet the needs of children with SEND.
- In England, the number and proportion of pupils identified with SEN has increased every year since 2016–17.
- The percentage of students with SEN attending special schools has risen in recent years. In 2020–21, 9.5% of pupils with SEN attended state-funded special schools, compared with 9.1% in 2018–2019.
- The UK Government’s plans to increase the number of special school places are inconsistent with international human rights standards.
- SEN is more prevalent in certain groups including boys, those eligible for free school meals, and ethnic minorities including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and Black Caribbean children.
- The level of support provided by schools and local authorities to pupils with SEN is largely decided by a ‘postcode lottery’. Children attending academy schools and vulnerable pupils are less likely to be identified as having SEND. While socio-economically disadvantaged children are more likely to be identified as having SEND overall, the most disadvantaged children in areas of high deprivation are the least likely to be identified as having SEND.
- There are concerns that restraint is used disproportionately against children with SEND. Children with SEN are disproportionately likely to be excluded from school.
- Available data suggests that the number of children being educated at home is growing and children with SEND may account for a disproportionate number, often as a result of their needs going unmet in schools.
- Pupils with SEND have significantly higher – and increasing – absence rates than their peers.
- There are significant challenges in ensuring appropriate SEND provision in mainstream schools. Commitments for increased SEND funding are welcome, but research suggests that this will not be sufficient to address persistent funding shortfalls at local authority level – estimated to reach £1.3 billion in 2022–23.
- The House of Commons Education Select Committee highlighted barriers to providing appropriate redress and remedy to families that challenge the extent of SEND provision.
- The pandemic has had a significant and disproportionate impact on disabled children’s rights to education in England and this has been exacerbated by the temporary modification of local authorities’ legal obligations to support children with SEN. It is unclear whether funding to support children to catch up on missed education will be sufficient to mitigate the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on disabled children. The UK Government has been urged to do more to support recovery, including providing additional funding and implementing a cross-departmental catch-up plan for disabled children.
- Concerns have been raised that the response to the pandemic will result in disabled pupils being moved to special schools on a long-term basis.
- The UK Government maintains a reservation to Article 24(2)(a) and (b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which calls into question its commitment to the right to an inclusive education. It is one of only two signatories in the world to do so.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on inclusive education.