Children from poor families ‘twice as likely’ to have special needs

Pupils from low-income families are more than twice as likely to be identified as having special educational needs than their better-off classmates, according to a new report

Children from low-income families are more likely to be born with inherited special needs and disabilities (SEND) and are more likely to develop them in childhood, it said.

But those from poor backgrounds are less likely to receive support than those children from richer families with special needs, says the report from LKMCo, an education think tank, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation research charity.

The report, Special Educational Needs and their links to poverty , which goes live at 1am today, cites government statistics showing that 13 per cent of those pupils not on free school meals have special educational needs.

Send pupils ‘falling through the gap’

But among pupils who are eligible for free school meals, the proportion with SEND rises to over a quarter (29 per cent).

It says that the reforms to improve the SEND system have “admirable intentions, and are yielding some improvements”, but says children are still falling through the gaps in a “fragmented education system”.

It says that the system remains difficult for parents to use and that school admissions processes mean that children with SEND who are living in poverty are less able to attend high-quality state schools than others.

The report recommends that:

  • SEND is given the same level of priority for action by government as tackling the socio-economic disadvantage.
  • School admissions should be reviewed to assess whether all schools provide fair access for pupils with SEND.
  • Opportunities to work in special schools should be promoted.
  • Ensure early years settings have the funding needed to employ a special educational needs co-ordinator.
  • Provide additional funding for careers services that are tailored to SEND pupils’ needs.

Barriers to social mobility

It concludes: “Children with SEND who are living in poverty currently face greater barriers to moving out of poverty than their peers. The education system in the UK, while improving in the way it supports SEND, exacerbates these barriers and creates an inequitable system where many children do not yet have the same educational opportunities as their peers.”

Helen Barnard, head of analysis at Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “We have seen a really welcome focus from the government and schools on closing the attainment gap between richer and poorer children. This research shows that we need to match this with a commitment to ensure that those with special educational needs and disabilities are able to achieve positive outcomes and move into adulthood with the skills and qualifications they need.”

A DfE spokesman said it has introduced the “biggest reforms” to the system “in a generation.”

“These reforms mean that for the first time ever, the needs of children with SEND across education, health and care are addressed together in one coherent plan.”

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