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Two-thirds of special schools full or over capacity

Around two thirds of special schools are full or over capacity, new government statistics have suggested after a Schools Week investigation revealed a lack of data on the issue.

Department for Education data shows there are approximately 4,000 more pupils on roll in special schools than reported capacity. 

Schools Week investigations revealed the DfE did not collect central data on special school capacity – despite soaring numbers of pupils with education, health and care plans. 

In 2022, we exposed how 54 per cent of special schools had more pupils on roll than the number commissioned by their council. 

Special school leaders told us how they were forced to cram pupils into converted therapy spaces and staffrooms.

Following our investigation, DfE confirmed it would collect data on special school capacity from summer 2023. 

The data, published today, stated there were 148,000 special school places reported across 1,077 schools. However, the actual number on roll was 152,000 as of May last year. 

“This means that there are approximately 4,000 more pupils on roll in special schools than reported capacity.

“This is due to the number of schools at or over capacity (around two thirds)”, DfE said. 

This compared to 17 per cent of mainstream primaries and 23 per cent of secondaries being over full or over capacity.

But DfE also said the special schools figures may “be a result of the way capacity has been measures which does not take account of type of need”. 

DfE said due to the “varied nature” of SEND provision, “there can be high amounts of local variation that national figures do not capture”. 

There was a primary special school surplus of about 1,700 places. DfE said this could be a result of how the total capacity of all-through special schools has been “apportioned between the primary and secondary phases”.

DfE also said the figures are “official statistics under development” and they expect the data quality to improve overtime. 

According to the data, Essex was the most over capacity, by 389 places. This was followed by Lancashire, at 378 places. 

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