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Special needs register just keeps growing

More than one in five pupils - about 1,750,000 children - are now on special educational needs registers in maintained schools in England and Wales.

In primary schools, the proportion of pupils with special needs but without statements rose to 21 per cent this January - nearly 4 per cent more than in 1997. At secondary level, nearly 18 per cent of pupils are in this category - a rise of 3.5 per cent since 1997.

The increase in the percentage of pupils with statements has been less spectacular. At primary level, the proportion has grown from 1.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent and, at secondary, from 2.3 per cent to 2.6 per cent. However, this still represents an increase of 12,500 primary and 13,000 secondary pupils with statements during the past four years.

There has also been a noticeable rise in the percentage of nursery pupils with statements, although at 600 the absolute number remains low, as does the incidence of pupils with wider special needs in nursery schools at around one in eight.

For advocates of full inclusion, the good news is that the proportion of pupils with statements who are placed in mainstream nursery, primary and secondary schools has increased from 57.2 per cent in 1997 to 61.4 per cent in January 2001. Nonetheless, this rise still leaves more than 90,000 pupils in special schools.

Two key issues emerge. First, as primary pupil numbers are falling the percentage of children with special needs is likely to rise as a proportion of the total school population over the next few years.

Second, it is evident that since children with special needs form a significant part of mainstream schooling, all teachers should be properly trained to deal effectively with the wide range of needs that they now encounter daily. If inclusion policies are to be successful, SEN teaching and, by association, SEN teacher recruitment, will have to take centre stage of education policy-making.

The writer is managing director of Education Data Surveys. Email

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