The number of children registered as having special educational needs has fallen sharply after changes to government policy, new research shows.
Helen Curran, senior lecturer in special educational needs at Bath Spa University, suggests that this could be a result of pressure on school resources and the reduction of funding for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
But the Department for Education insists that many pupils were wrongly identified as SEND in the past, and the drop is simply correcting a historical error.
Ms Curran conducted a survey of 74 special educational needs coordinators, responsible for overseeing SEND provision in schools.
Sixty-three per cent of these respondents said the number of children on their school’s SEND register had declined in the past year.
Thirty-three per cent said the number of children on their register had stayed the same after the reforms. And 4 per cent said the number had increased, Ms Curran will tell the British Educational Research Association annual conference today.
Legislation introduced in September last year reformed the system for identifying children in England with SEND, as well as assessing their needs and providing for them.
Ministers have argued that some pupils were previously wrongly identified as having SEND. They referred to a 2010 Ofsted report, claiming that a quarter of children identified as having SEND should not have been labelled as such. The report claimed that they were simply low achievers.
This was echoed by the staff surveyed by Ms Curran. She carried out her research in March this year, six months after the introduction of the reforms that effectively led to the end of "statementing".
Some members of staff said they were questioning whether some children previously classified as having SEND were in fact simply slow to progress, or suffering from a lack of effective teaching.
However, others suggested that the government’s changes were a way for schools and local authorities to reduce the number of SEND children being supported, and the costs of this support. Some even indicated that they thought this was the reason behind the reforms.
Ms Curran said: “This does beg the question: if SEN numbers are reduced, what has happened to the group who were previously identified as SEN, but are no longer?
“Were they incorrectly identified in the past, or are pressures on school resources – including support costs, time and staffing issues – playing a part?”