In the past four years, the number of pupils with statements of special educational needs has remained fairly constant, falling slightly from 243,000 in 2005 to 222,000 in 2009. Due to changes in the size of the school population, the percentage change was a drop from 2.9 per cent to 2.7 per cent.
By contrast, the number of pupils accepted to have special needs, but who do not have statements, increased during this period, from 14.9 per cent of the school population, to 17.8 per cent. This was an increase of just over 200,000 pupils in four years. These are children covered by guidelines known as School Action or School Action Plus.
There are distinct gender and ethnic differences in pupils diagnosed with special needs. Black pupils are the most likely to have special educational needs at primary school. In secondaries, white, mixed-race and black pupils are most likely to have statements, whereas black pupils are most likely to have special educational needs without statements. Boys are over two-and-a-half times more likely to have a statement than girls. Pupils with special educational needs are much more likely to be eligible for free school meals than non-SEN pupils.
This points to why politicians are so enamoured with the idea of a "pupil premium" approach to funding. Better data collection means help can be targeted where it is needed most. But there is more than one type of special need among pupils. In a period of financial constraint, where governments put the money will depend on what view they take of "equality" or what is needed to create a successful education for all
John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.