The total has risen by 2,000 this year, according to provisional figures for January released by the Department for Education and Skills. The estimated total of just over 250,000 is the highest since 2001, when 258,000 children had statements.
Last year there was a marked drop in the number of statemented primary pupils. But the total is rising again and stands at more than 71,000. As rolls are falling, this means a record 1.7 per cent of mainstream primary pupils now have statements.
The number of statemented secondary pupils also rose this year, to more than 79,000. However, as secondary rolls are also rising the proportion is stable at 2.4 per cent of the age group.
Despite attempts to integrate pupils with special needs in the mainstream, some 89,000 children are still being educated in special schools. This is only 4,000 below the 1999 total.
The figures also show that the proportion of pupils in special schools with statements has been rising, from 93.8 per cent in 1999 to 96.4 per cent in 2003. This suggests many who transferred to mainstream schools do not have the benefit of a statement.
We must hope schools struggling to balance budgets resist the temptation to cut funding for these children.
John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University