Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Education statistics and children with learning disabilities: update

I’ve been looking at the Department for Education (DfE) statistics on children and young people identified within the English education system as children/young people with learning disabilities, recorded in an annual census of schools. In the Special Educational Needs (SEN) statistics there are a number of mutually exclusive categories of SEN, three of which concern children with learning disabilities – Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD), Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Profound & Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). There are a number of other SEN categories recorded within these statistics (Specific Learning Difficulties; Speech, language and communication needs; Social, emotional and mental health; Autistic spectrum disorder; Visual impairment; Hearing impairment; Multisensory impairment; Physical disability).

Within the annual census, a child can be classified as having a ‘primary need’ in one of these categories, and optionally classified as having an additional, ‘secondary need’ in another category. Most importantly in terms of how children are supported, children may have a special educational need that has been judged to require specific support in the form of an SEN statement (historically) or now (magically) an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. Beyond that, DfE statistics now only report an additional much larger number of children at a level of ‘SEN support’, which has no requirements to specifically support a child.

This blogpost simply goes through what some of these statistics say about the education of children and young people with learning disabilities, as identified within the education system. I am going to focus solely on children and young people with a statement or EHC plan, as this seems to be the most meaningful in terms of children and young people who stand a chance of getting some form of specific support. There are going to be A LOT of graphs…

Return to SENDer

The first question is simply – how many children and young people with learning disabilities and statements/EHC plans are recorded in DfE statistics? The first graph below shows the number of children with a ‘primary SEN need’ of MLD, SLD and PMLD, from 2010 to 2017 (apologies for the acronyms – if using these is a deal breaker in terms of offensiveness do tell me and I won’t use them in future blogposts).

The graph shows that in 2017, nearly 68,000 children in England (nearly 30% of all children with statements or EHC plans) had a statement/EHC plan and were identified as children with learning disabilities. For children with MLD this was 28,564 children in 2017, a reduction of 30% in the seven years from 2010. This huge drop is at a time when the number of children on school rolls increased by 7%, and there are no population reasons to expect the number of children with moderate learning difficulties to be dropping.

In 2017, there were 29,120 children with a statement/EHC plan and identified with a need of SLD, an increase in numbers of 15% from 2010, and in 2017 outstripping the number of children with a statement/EHC plan and MLD for the first time. Finally, in 2017 there were 10,010 children with a statement/EHC plan and identified with a need of PMLD, again an increase of 15% in the seven years from 2010.


Because these categories might seem pretty arbitrary, I also looked at how many of these children had a ‘secondary SEN need’ recorded in 2017 alongside their primary need.

For those with a statement/EHC plan and a primary need of MLD, just over half (52%) had a secondary SEN identified, most commonly Speech, Language and Communication Needs (6,475 children; 22.7%), Social, Emotional and Mental Health (2,629 children; 9.2%), and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (2,150 children; 7.5%). An additional 14,026 children had a secondary need of MLD identified alongside a different primary SEN, most commonly Speech, Language and Communication Needs (4,786 children), Autistic Spectrum Disorder (3,588 children), and Social, Emotional and Mental Health (2,598 children).

For those with a statement/EHC plan and a primary need of SLD, just over half (52%) had a secondary SEN identified, most commonly Autistic Spectrum Disorder (5,442 children; 18.7%), Speech, Language and Communication Needs (4,515 children; 15.5%), and Physical Disability (1,919 children; 6.6%). An additional 7,024 children had a secondary need of SLD identified alongside a different primary SEN, most commonly Autistic Spectrum Disorder (4,511 children).

For those with a statement/EHC plan and a primary need of PMLD, just under half (46%) had a secondary SEN identified, most commonly Physical Disability (1,252 children; 12.5%), Visual Impairment (1,138 children; 11.4%), Speech, Language and Communication Needs (697 children; 7.0%), and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (520 children; 5.2%). An additional 922 children had a secondary need of PMLD identified alongside a different primary SEN, most commonly Physical Disability (281 children), and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (196 children).


When, will I, will I be labelled?

At what ages are children/young people most likely to be identified by education systems as requiring a statement/EHC plan associated with a learning disability? The graph below shows the rates (per 1,000 of all children) of children with statements/EHCPs and primary needs of MLD, SLD and PMLD at ages 5-15 years (when the information about children is likely to be more complete).

Children are less likely to be identified as requiring a statement/EHC plan associated with MLD early in their school career but progressively more likely to be identified as age increases, with particularly sharp increases at ages associated with the end of primary school and into secondary school. Children are likely to be identified as requiring a statement/EHC plan associated with SLD earlier on, with identification rates gradually increasing with age. Children are likely to be identified as requiring a statement/EHC plan associated with PMLD very early in their school careers – identification rates for this group of children gradually decrease with age.



I’m special (special), so special (special), I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me

How many children with learning disabilities are being educated in mainstream schools or special schools? The graph below shows the number of children with a statement/EHC plan and primary needs of MLD, SLD and PMLD being educated in mainstream schools and special schools in England, from 2010 through to 2017. These figures don’t include potentially substantial but often not really known numbers of children not in school at all (including those being home educated), or in places like residential special schools or specialist inpatient units.

The graph has quite a lot of stuff in it, so let’s take it bit by bit. The lilac lines are for children with MLD in mainstream schools (diamonds) and special schools (circles). As we know from earlier on the number of children with statements/EHC plans associated with MLD decreased from 2010 to 2017 – this graph shows that this drop has been bigger for children with MLD in mainstream schools than for children with MLD in special schools.

For children with statements/EHC plans associated with SLD (the blue lines), the number of children with SLD in mainstream schools slightly decreased from 2010 to 2017, while the number of children with SLD in special schools has rapidly increased.

For children with a statement/EHC plan associated with PMLD (the purple lines), the numbers of children with PMLD in both mainstream and special schools has gradually increased from 2010 to 2017.


The next graph below puts this information together to show the proportion of children with a statement/EHC plan associated with MLD, SLD and PMLD in mainstream schools from 2010 to 2017. For children with MLD, the proportion of children in mainstream schools was over 50% in 2010; by 2017 this is now less than half. The proportion of children with SLD in mainstream schools is lower, and has gradually decreased from 2010 to 2017. For children with PMLD, the proportion of children in mainstream schools has stayed fairly static, with some fluctuations, from 2010 to 2017, and is slightly higher in 2017 than it was in 2010.




Have a banana, Hannah. Try the salami, Tommy. Get with the gravy, Davy. Everybody eats when they come to my school

Although it’s not an ideal marker of the financial circumstances of families, eligibility for free school meals is collected within DfE statistics. The graph below shows the proportion of children with statements/EHCPs associated with MLD, SLD and PMLD eligible for free school meals compared to the proportion of all children eligible for free school meals. Over a third of children with MLD and SLD, and well over a quarter of children with PMLD, were eligible for free school meals in 2017. This compared to 14% of all children in schools. 
  

And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain

Finally for this blogpost, I want to talk about the statistics on absences and exclusions from school.
The graph below shows the percentage of half-day sessions that children missed due to authorised and unauthorised absences from school in 2016/17. This is not just for children with a statement/EHC plan, but also includes children at the level of School Action Plus (a historic category somewhere between a statement and SEN Support). The light blue bits of the column show that levels of unauthorised absences were pretty low for all children, and children with SLD and PMLD (although a little higher for children with MLD). Levels of authorised absences from school were lowest for all children then progressively higher for children with MLD, SLD and PMLD. Children with PMLD were on average missing one school session in seven.

In 2013/14 (the latest year for which these analyses have been published), illness and medical/dental appointments accounted for 57% of absences of children with MLD, 72% of absences of children with SLD and 78% of absences of children with PMLD.




The last graph below shows the percentage of children who experienced fixed-term and permanent exclusions from school in 2015/16. The vast majority of exclusions were fixed-term exclusions – compared to children without SEN, children with MLD were much more likely to experience a fixed-term exclusion and children with SLD and PMLD were less likely to experience a fixed-term exclusion. Proportions of children without SEN, with SLD and with PMLD experiencing permanent exclusions were extremely low (less than 0.1%), but were higher amongst children with MLD (0.2%).



For children without SEN, the most common reasons for fixed period exclusions were persistent disruptive behaviour (26.9% of exclusions for this group), ‘other’ (21.2%), physical assault against a pupil (18.8%), and verbal abuse/threatening behaviour against an adult (16.2%). For children with MLD, the most common reasons were similar: persistent disruptive behaviour (31.2%), ‘other’ (19.5%), verbal abuse/threatening behaviour against an adult (16.8%), and physical assault against a pupil (15.9%).

For children with SLD, the most common reasons for fixed period exclusions were physical assault against an adult (28.2%), persistent disruptive behaviour (19.0%), physical assault against a pupil (17.8%) and verbal abuse/threatening behaviour against an adult (14.4%). The pattern for children with PMLD was similar: physical assault against an adult (38.9%), physical assault against a pupil (22.2%), persistent disruptive behaviour (16.7%), and verbal abuse/threatening behaviour against an adult (11.1%).

For children without SEN, the most common reasons for permanent exclusions were persistent disruptive behaviour (31.9% of exclusions), ‘other’ (18.5%), physical assault against a pupil (13.4%), and drug and alcohol related reasons (11.7%). For children with MLD the most common reasons were broadly similar: persistent disruptive behaviour (36.7%), ‘other’ (14.4%), physical assault against a pupil (13.3%), physical assault against an adult (11.1%), and verbal abuse/threatening behaviour against an adult (10.0%). The number of exclusions involving children with SLD (20 exclusions (rounded figure)) and children with PMLD (no exclusions) were too small to allow for meaningful analysis of the reasons for permanent exclusions.

Lazing on a summary afternoon

I don’t really want to put a heavily opinionated commentary on this blogpost, so here’s a TL:DR summary instead.
·        While the number of children identified as having special educational needs associated with severe learning difficulties or profound and multiple learning difficulties and needing statements or EHC plans are steadily increasing, the number of children identified as having a special educational need associated with moderate learning difficulties is plummeting.
·        With the possible exception of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties, there is a sustained drift towards special education for other groups of children with learning disabilities.
·        Children with learning disabilities are more likely to be eligible for free school meals than children generally.
·        Children with moderate learning difficulties are more likely to experience unauthorised absences from school, fixed-term exclusions and permanent exclusions compared to children without special educational needs.
·        Children with severe learning difficulties are equally likely to experience unauthorised absences from school and fixed-term exclusions compared to children without special educational needs; they are also more likely to experience authorised absences (largely due to illness and health appointments) but extremely unlikely to experience permanent exclusions.

·        Children with profound and multiple learning difficulties are equally likely to experience unauthorised absences from school compared to children without special educational needs; they are also less likely to experience fixed-term exclusions, extremely unlikely to experience permanent exclusions, but much, much more likely to experience authorised absences (largely due to illness and health appointments).

3 comments:

  1. Thanks a million for sharing these mega useful figures with the rest of us! As I know from bitter experience they're not easy to come by, so very useful. Love the subheaders but now have competing songs humming away in my head.

    Katrina (Scior)

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