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Commissioner calls for radical rehaul of the SEND system

New statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE) reveal that 1,183,384 pupils in England in 2023 receive support for their special educational needs (SEN) without an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). This is up by 4.7% from 2022.

  • The Children’s Commissioner has expressed her concerns about lack of support for children with Special Educational Needs in mainstream education and long waiting times for EHCPs as demand reaches new highs.

  • She has called for a radical rehaul of the SEND system and swift implementation of the SEND Improvement Plan.

  • New data from DfE shows that nearly 1.2 million children in England have special educational needs support without an EHCP – up 4.7% from 2022.

  • Almost 400,000 pupils have an EHC plan, up 9.5% from 2022.

  • Nationally, only 51% of EHCPs were issued by local authorities within the 20 week deadline. There is also considerable regional variation – from 32% in the East Midlands to 63% in London.

The overall number of pupils in England with special educational needs has also risen to 17.3%, up from 16.6% last year.

It comes as demand for EHCPs reaches new highs, with the number of initial requests for an EHCP up 23% since 2021 to 114,000. The total number of children with an EHCP has also risen, up 9.5% to 517,000.

However, despite the demand, the number of EHCPs being issued to children has risen by only 7% this year to 66,000. Data published by the DfE indicates that the deadline of 20 weeks for local authorities to issue an EHCP is being met in only 51% of cases, down from 60% in 2021.

The Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said today: “I am really concerned by this data, which clearly shows that demand for EHCPs has never been higher.

“We need to radically rehaul our approach to SEND, to create a system which is ambitious for every child,” Dame Rachel added.

In our report last year on Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) we found that children want support to help them do well, but they often experience a system which is more interested in asking ‘what is wrong with you?’ than ‘how can we help?’. Oftentimes, children and their families have to chase an EHCP to get the support they need to thrive in school. With waiting times for EHCPs growing every year, it’s becoming ever harder for children to get the help they deserve.

Children with SEND are no less ambitious than their peers. The Big Ask, the largest ever survey of children in England, showed that they want to be in school, just like all other children. The SEND system should be set up to help these children achieve their dreams, but this is too rarely the experience.

Research shows that some teachers feel underqualified to teach SEN pupils and school SEN co-ordinators are struggling with the levels of paperwork expected of them. Equally, the High Needs Budgets of local authorities keep going further into deficit, leading many of them to refuse initial requests for assessment for an EHCP.

It is essential that we get the right support in place for children with SEND. Failing to do so has many knock-on effects. We know that pupils with SEN have much higher absence rates than their peers. According to the most recent data, in 2021/22, 37% of pupils with an EHCP were persistently absent, and 32% of pupils with SEN without an EHCP were persistently absent. Only 20% of pupils with no identified SEN were persistently absent.

Analysis from the Children’s Commissioner’s Office has found that children with an EHCP are absent for an additional four days per term, relative to children with no identified SEN. These children are desperate to be in school, they just need the right support to get there. The Big Ask revealed that children who receive support for their SEND in school are actually happier than the overall cohort – underlining the importance of getting it right.

We need urgent reform of the SEND system to improve the life chances of England’s children. In ‘Beyond the Labels: A SEND system which works for every child, every time’, the Children’s Commissioner recommended that mainstream schools be given the resources to support children with SEND, and if alternative provision is required then this should be available from day one.

Commenting on the latest data, the Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said:

“It is welcome that the Government has now published its SEND Improvement Plan, particularly its focus on early help for families and making EHCPs more useful for young people. It is now fundamental that these reforms are implemented quickly, to prevent any more families from reaching breaking point.

I’ve seen some fantastic examples, across schools, care, colleges, and health, so now the challenge is to make sure that every service and all support for every child and every family, is as brilliant as the best, wherever they are in the country.”


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