A Summary of DfES Statistical First Release – SFR 42/2005 (September 2005) indicates that in January 2005 nearly 8.3 million pupils attended 25,300 maintained and independent schools in England. Ninety-one percent of pupils were taught in maintained nursery, primary and secondary schools; 7% of pupils attended independent schools; 1% of pupils attended maintained and non-maintained special schools. Overall numbers for each type of placement are listed below:

– Nursery 37,530 – Primary 4,204,500 – Secondary 3,316,050 – Maintained special 85,500 – Non-maintained special 4,870 – Pupil referral units 14,470 – Independent 579,930 – City technology colleges 16,460

– Academies 15,200

More than 100,000 pupils attended maintained special schools, non-maintained special schools or pupil referral units, indicating that moves towards policies of inclusion (mainstream placement) have not, as yet, altered patterns of provision for a small minority of pupils with special educational needs or pupils with other exceptional social, emotional and behavioural needs.

The number of pupils eligible for free school meals is often used as a proxy indicator of social and economic deprivation and the percentage of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools. In January 2005, 16.9% of pupils were known to be eligible for free school meals in maintained nursery and primary schools in 2005 (a slight decrease from 17.3% in 2004). Fourteen percent of pupils in maintained secondary schools were known to be eligible for free school meals (a slight decrease from 14.3% in 2004).

The data set does not provide information about the numbers of pupils with special educational needs attending mainstream schools. However, given that the number of pupils attending special schools and other specialist provision has remained at close to 100,000 for a number of years, it appears reasonable to assume that the number of pupils with special educational needs attending mainstream schools is over 1.5 million. This was the view of the Audit Commission when it published its report Special Educational Needs: A mainstream issue in 2002.

Notwithstanding the importance of specialist provision, it does seem odd that, following Baroness Warnock’s well-publicised comments calling for a review of the policy of inclusion, more attention has not been given to identifying ways of supporting children experiencing difficulties in learning effectively in mainstream school settings.

For further information and to view or download the complete document, including detailed statistical tables, see: