Include children with SEND ‘by default’

  • By Gemma Kappala-R...

More accountability and firmer commitments are needed to ensure all children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are included in mainstream schools.

A new report by London Councils shows that although many schools and councils in the capital are using a range of innovative strategies to meet the needs of children with SEND, if they wish to attend their local mainstream school, it also found that not every school is succeeding at being inclusive.

Alongside best-in-class inclusive schools, there are also too many examples of unfair admissions practice, off-rolling and inappropriate exclusions.

The Government’s recent announcement of an extra £700 million for the High Needs block shows that supporting children with SEND is high on the national agenda.

With London in line to receive a share of the additional funding, London Councils’ report makes a range of recommendations for how targeted investment and other commitments can improve inclusivity in the capital’s schools.

Cllr Nickie Aiken, London Councils’ Executive member for Schools and Children’s Services, said:

“It’s inspiring that so many councils and schools in London are already positive about supporting children with SEND - delivering on their legal duty to ensure education is inclusive.

“However we cannot yet guarantee that all schools in London are inclusive. All too often children with SEND end up being excluded or off-rolled rather than being offered the support they need.

“The Chancellor’s funding increase for schools is very welcome and removes one of the major obstacles to inclusion - it’s clear that Government wants us all to raise our expectations and ensure our education system is inclusive by default.

“The number of children with SEND in London has grown in recent years, so now is the time for all education partners to strengthen our collective commitment to ensuring education is truly inclusive.”

There are currently 211,772 children in London with SEND - 46,576 have Education, Health and Care Plans and 165,196 are receiving Special Education Needs support. The majority - almost 172,000 pupils - attend mainstream primary or secondary schools.

The number of children with SEND attending mainstream primary schools in the capital has risen by 3 per cent since 2016, and the number of children with SEND at London secondary schools has grown by 2.5 per cent over the past year, making it increasingly important that all London schools prioritise inclusion.

London Councils’ report found that schools can be held back from promoting inclusion due to funding pressures, lack of SEND expertise and concern about impact on performance.

Encouraging greater inclusion in the wider education system is also vital to easing the pressure on special schools. The number of children across London attending these schools increased from 15,007 to 17,226 between 2016 and 2019.

Progress is being made - Government has increased the amount of funding schools receive via the High Needs Block by £700 million and Ofsted has started to focus more on inclusion in their revised School Inspection Framework, which goes live this month. To build on this, London Councils’ report makes nine recommendations for boosting inclusion in schools.

These include:

• Councils should consider what more they can do to effectively support, challenge and empower schools to improve their inclusive practice.
• National government should ensure schools remain financially accountable for any children they exclude.
• National government should update the SEND Code of Practice to stress and clarify schools’ duties in relation to supporting children with SEND, including providing a clear definition of off-rolling.
• National government should provide a clearer policy steer on inclusion of children with SEND in mainstream schools and introduce a specific inclusion fund to facilitate more inclusion in schools.


Notes to Editors:

You can download a copy of London Councils' report: Inclusive Practice here [pdf]

Data on the number of children with SEND in London was obtained from Gov.UK: Statistics: Special educational needs web page which can be accessed here:

This data also showed that the most common type of SEND among pupils attending London primary schools is speech and language communications needs. At secondary school, the most common type of SEND among students is social, emotional and mental health needs.