Pupils are less likely to be identified as having special educational needs and disabilities if they attend academies, according to a major new research report.
The Education Policy Institute think tank has found that pupils in academies are half as likely to be recognised as having SEND compared with similar pupils in other state schools.
And for pupils with more severe needs, those living in areas in England with very few academy schools are 10 times more likely to be identified with SEND by their local authority than similar students living in areas that have many academy schools, the EPI said.
Revealed: The postcode lottery in SEND support
The EPI said this shows that academies may be overlooking pupils who require SEND support.
Academies 'may be overlooking pupils who need SEND support'
It says its findings cover a period of two years after schools have become academies and further research should be taken to see if these trends persist.
The EPI’s new report looks at how fairly and effectively pupils with SEND are identified in England, both for those with more severe needs and those at a lower level.
The report also says there is a “postcode lottery” – with the chances of receiving SEND support from the school or from the local authority largely dictated by the school that a child attends, rather than their individual circumstances.
One factor it identifies is the difference in the likelihood of being identified with SEND at academies compared with maintained schools.
The report says that children in local authorities with the lowest rates of academisation had an estimated chance of being identified with SEND at the higher level of 3.2 per cent.
This compared with just 0.3 per cent of children in areas with the highest rates of primary school academisation.
The EPI report also says that “the margin for identification with SEND at the lower level” was 28 per cent for children in local authority mainstream schools, compared with 17 per cent for children in mainstream academies.
The EPI said this figure was not the percentage of pupils with SEND but a figure showing the chance of being identified.
The report's author, Jo Hutchinson, the EPI's director of social mobility and vulnerable learners, said: "We can't tell at this stage from our research why SEND identification appears to be so different in academies, but we can speculate on some possible reasons.
"We know that the training on SEND that teachers and leaders receive is highly variable, so that, in turn, could be affecting schools' approaches to identification, as some may have different beliefs and attitudes about SEND.
"The SEND funding system is complex and often difficult to navigate, with schools having to go through lengthy assessment processes before any additional funding is guaranteed. So this system could well be discouraging schools from providing support and seeking extra funding for this.
"While it is concerning to see these patterns at this stage, it is important that we scrutinise more data on SEND support among academies as it comes through, so we can fully understand the long-term picture over many years."
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Of particular concern is the conclusion that the type of school may be a factor in identifying SEND, and that children from the most disadvantaged areas are less likely to be identified than similar children in more affluent areas.
“It is very difficult to know what is driving these patterns and we would caution against jumping to conclusions in an extremely complex educational landscape.
“However, what we do know is that everybody in the school system – in whatever type of school or area – is utterly committed to correctly identifying SEND and providing the support that children require.
“Schools have not been helped by the fact that government funding for this support has not matched the level of need, and that the SEND funding system is Byzantine in its complexity.
“We agree with the report’s recommendations for improving the system for identifying and supporting pupils with SEND, and we are grateful to the EPI for shining a light on this issue.”