Teachers at top-performing schools are not taking their fair share of pupils with special needs, leaving others oversubscribed and unable to provide the right support, according to a Government-commissioned study.
Leaders at selective schools and under-performing secondaries that are part of the National Challenge programme are the only heads allowed to refuse to take SEN pupils, leaving others to deliver the Department for Children, Schools and Families' policy of inclusion.
Researchers trying to discover the reasons for the current special educational needs "postcode lottery" have found that some teachers are being asked to work with "disproportionate" numbers of SEN children.
The report, by the National Children's Bureau, Thomas Coram Research Unit, London University's Institute of Education and Council for Disabled Children, says schools known for being inclusive are becoming so oversubscribed with SEN pupils that they are unable to teach them properly.
"Teachers felt very stretched, and there were also comments about the scope of the school to continue to take more children with SEN being limited," the study said.
Headteachers said the dominance of SEN pupils in some primary and secondaries was also caused by local authorities being "dogmatic" about not sending children to special schools.
"I think their (local authority) key objective is to keep children with even the most significant special needs in mainstream school... we've had children here in the past who clearly are not right for mainstream... but mentioning a (possible) move to a special school is always met with huge resistance from the authority," one head said.
In some areas teachers are reluctant to take on SEN pupils in case this affects their school's performance.
"Tension between inclusion and attainment was also commonly described as a barrier," the study says.
"There were reports of individual schools with disproportionately high levels of children with SEN which tested commitment to inclusion. For example, (those at) schools with a good reputation for inclusion that have become oversubscribed to the point where they are less able to support children effectively."
Local authority chiefs told researchers that the Government should give "more consistent and positive" messages about inclusion, and promote them "more forcefully".
Disparate provision: statements and spending
Findings from the report
The study shows the percentage of pupils with SEN who have a statement varied from 12.1 per cent to 17.6 per cent in different areas.
- The percentage of pupils with SEN who had a statement was lower where there were more pupils with SEN.
- Spending on SEN in mainstream schools varied from #163;1,045 per child to #163;1,818. In areas with more pupils with special needs, less was spent on each.
- The proportion of children with statements who were not in mainstream school varied from 34.2 per cent to 49.7 per cent.