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CASE News:
Children in affluent areas get more special needs support

Published/Broadcast 13 November 2023

New CASE research by Tammy Campbell finds that children with special educational needs living in affluent areas have a higher chance than those in poorer areas of being diagnosed with certain disabilities and conditions, including dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. 

The research, funded by the British Academy, also finds that children with special educational needs living in affluent areas are more likely to be in receipt of an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), which is a higher-level SEND provision funded by local authorities. It therefore provides key evidence for concerns that there is a ‘rationing’ of support, and, consequentially, unmet need, in poorer locations.

Tammy Campbell analysed 4.5 million children in state primary schools using the National Pupil Database. She found that 16.2% in primary school are recorded with SEND: 12.9% at ‘support’-level, and 3.3% with an EHCP.

The key findings are:

Children with SEND living in more affluent areas have higher chances than those in poorer areas of being diagnosed with less prevalent, more precisely defined conditions, that involve agencies and resources outside of the school in diagnosis:

  • Around 10.3% are recorded with ‘Autistic Spectrum’ conditions in the most deprived areas; 11.9% in the most affluent areas.
  • For ‘Specific Learning Difficulties,’ (SPLD) which includes conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD – which, like Autism, require diagnosis by professionals outside of the immediate school environment – the gradient is particularly clear. Around 15% of children with SEND living in the most affluent decile are recorded with SPLD compared to about 6% in the most deprived.
  • Around 2.3% are recorded with ‘Physical Disabilities’ in the most deprived areas; 3.4% in the most affluent areas.
  • Around 1.3% are recorded with ‘Hearing’ conditions in the most deprived areas; 2.1% in the most affluent areas.

Children with SEND living in more deprived areas are more likely to be recorded in the National Pupil Database (NPD) with less well-defined, more commonly documented SEND conditions ‘Speech, Language and Communication Needs;’ ‘Moderate Learning Difficulties;’ and ‘Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties’:

  • Around 32% are recorded with ‘Speech, Language and Communication Needs’ in the most deprived areas; 25% in the most affluent areas.
  • Around 20% are recorded with ‘Moderate Learning Difficulties’ in the most deprived areas; 15% in the most affluent areas.
  • Around 18% are recorded with ‘Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties’ in the most deprived areas; 15% in the most affluent areas.

Primary school children living in deprived areas are less likely to be allocated higher-level statutory SEND support through an EHCP:

  • Among children from low-income families - those recorded as eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) - around 4.75% have an EHCP in the most deprived areas, compared to 5.75% in the most affluent areas.
  • Among all children with any SEND, about 17.5% have an EHCP in the most deprived areas, compared to 22% in the most affluent areas. This pattern holds for all children and FSM-eligible children.

The report says: “Findings overall support recent statements during a session on SEND by the Education Select Committee that ‘a massive rationing process’ is taking place, and that there are ‘huge high needs deficits.’ They indicate that there is unmet need for support and provision among children living in more deprived areas and suggest that additional resourcing and funding is needed.”

Previous research has already shown that processes involved for parents and carers in accessing tailored support for their child are often resource-heavy, stressful, and adversarial – requiring them to actively access and fight for provision. Appeal and hearing rates for an EHCP in areas with lower socio-economic status are significantly smaller than in the least deprived areas.

The report concludes: “What is worrying about this is that it once more indicates under-appeals and consequential unmet need in more deprived areas, rather than any reverse of this. This is because appealing for necessary provision for their child’s SEND is a system fraught with ‘confusion…bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability,’ with which parents and carers with capacity engage through necessity rather than active desire.”

Dr Campbell commented: “These findings suggest that the government’s recently revealed plans to reduce spending on specialist provision are a move in the wrong direction. Until the wider primary education system is made significantly more inclusive, cuts to EHCPs are likely only to worsen unmet need. This may further damage children’s experiences and is likely to hit those in deprived areas particularly hard."

Inequalities in provision for primary children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) by local area deprivation was published by CASE on 13 November 2023. You can read it in this link