'England will need 80 more special schools by 2027'

FFT Education Datalab says population bulge will drive demand for 9,000 extra special school places

Caroline Henshaw

Population bulge expected to drive demand for 9,000 more special school places

England will need an estimated 80 more special schools by 2027 as the population bulge moves into secondary schools, FFT Education Datalab has predicted.

A baby boom in the early 2000s has swollen the ranks of primary pupils in recent years, and those young people are now coming into their teens.  

The Department for Education predicts the state-funded secondary age population will increase by 15 per cent, or 427,000 pupils, in the next eight years.

Meanwhile, the proportion of students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who have statements or education health and care plans (ECHPs) attending special schools has also been growing.

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Latest official data shows that 38 per cent of pupils with statements or EHCPs attended state-funded special schools in 2010, but that proportion had risen to 44 per cent by 2018.

FFT Education Datalab chief statistician Dave Thomson says in a blog post published today that these trends combined will create growing demand for places in special schools.

Assuming the proportion of the population with ECHPs stays around 3.6 per cent, he estimates that will equate to an extra 15,000 pupils by 2027.

“The underlying data behind the population projections anticipate that special schools will take 9,000 of them,” he explains. “Given that the average special school has 117 pupils, that’s almost 80 schools’ worth.

“Presumably it is anticipated that the remaining 6,000 pupils will go to mainstream schools or other settings such as independent schools, non-maintained special schools and alternative provision.”

Mr Thomson says this raises three questions:

  1. Whether there is still enough expertise in mainstream schools to take these pupils on.
  2. Whether there is sufficient funding, given that mainstream schools are expected to cover the first £6,000 of additional funding for pupils with SEND.
  3. Whether the Progress 8 performance of pupils with ECHPs acts as a disincentive for mainstream schools to take them on.

His calculations highlight the potential strain on UK schools at a time when they are already struggling with per-pupil funding cuts.

Council bosses have warned schools are being pushed to the brink by a funding gap of more than half a billion pounds for children with SEND.

A Tes investigation found councils have also turned to special private schools, with spending on places up 40 per cent in the past five years.

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Caroline Henshaw

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