Twice as many poorer children have special educational needs, according to new figures which show a cultural link between deprivation and learning difficulties.
The statistics, released last week by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, reveal the extent of SEN in English schools.
The figures, which date from last year, show that some 28 per cent of pupils with SEN (with and without statements) were known to be eligible for free school meals in primary schools compared with around 13 per cent of pupils with no SEN.
Around 8.1 million pupils in the UK now have special needs, and just 2.8 per cent, or 223,610, have statements. This has fallen from 8.3 million in 2002. In secondary schools, 12 per cent overall were entitled to FSM, but among SEN pupils this rises to 25 per cent.
"Disability cuts across all classes; it doesn't matter about background. But there are now many cultural connections between disadvantage and SEN," said Eddy Jackson, headtecher at Highfurlong, a specialist school in Blackpool.
"Those from poorer families often don't get the same rich language experience, and their parents have different expectations."
Almost 35,000 fewer children are given statements of SEN now compared to the beginning of the century, and 85 special schools have closed in the past four years.
The statistics also show a sharp rise in the number of children with SEN without statements in mainstream schools. In 2004 13.6 per cent of pupils with special needs were placed in secondaries, but by 2008 this had risen to 17.8 per cent. The numbers with statements have fallen by around 0.2 per cent in primaries and 0.4 per cent in secondaries.
National averages for statementing mask regional differences. At 4.2 per cent, Torbay has the highest proportion of pupils with statements. The figure is just 1.7 per cent in Somerset, 1.1 per cent in Newham, east London and Nottinghamshire, 1.8 per cent in Sandwell, 1.4 per cent in Nottingham and 1.8 per cent in York.
News analysis, pages 30-31.