Special needs education within the education system - United Kingdom (England)

Under the terms of the Education Act 1996, all pupils at state funded schools have a right of access to a broad and balanced curriculum and all local authority schools (including special schools) are required to deliver the National Curriculum, which is sufficiently flexible to accommodate different paces and styles of learning. While there are procedures for headteachers of local authority schools to make temporary exceptions from the National Curriculum for pupils, this option is rare, largely on account of the flexibility of the National Curriculum application.  The National Curriculum is being reviewed.  

The law assumes that pupils with special educational needs will be educated in mainstream schools.  However, if this is not suitable to meet their needs, provision is available in ‘resourced’ schools (schools which can guarantee resources and staff expertise to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs – usually in a particular ‘category’ of need and regarded as an area resource).  About one per cent of the school population is educated in special schools, though the proportion varies according to the particular local authority. 

(See the legislation on disability discrimination under Legal System)

Assessment of the attainment of pupils with special educational needs

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) is a statutory assessment for children at the end of the Foundation Stage (covering ages 3 – 5) and is a way of summing up each child's development and learning at the end of the Reception year (for children aged 4-5). For more information about the profile, please visit:  www.education.gov.uk/schools/adminandfinance/

The Early Years Foundations Stage (EYFS) is an overarching framework for early years providers intended to provide clear information on how children learn and develop in these earliest years in a format that is easily understood and applied by practitioners. A review was promised when the EYFS was introduced in 2008 and one has been published.  

All pupils are assessed at the end of each of the four Key Stages of education (ages 5-7 (Key Stage 1), 7-11 (KS2), 11-14 (KS3) and 14-16 (KS4)).  All National Curriculum subjects have attainment targets. For Key Stages 1 to 3, end of key stage assessment is statutory.  At the end of Key Stage 1, schools are required to assess pupils via internal teacher assessment, informed by (internally-marked) tasks and tests.  At the end of Key Stage 2, pupils are assessed via a combination of internal teacher assessment and externally marked statutory national tests.  Assessment at the end of Key Stage 3 is via internal teacher assessment only.  There is currently an external review of testing and assessment at the end of Key Stage 2: a Progress Report was published in April 2011, and the final report with recommendations will follow in June.    

Pupils are awarded a ‘level’ of attainment.  There is currently a series of graduated ‘level descriptions’ with an indicative range for each end-of-key stage assessment; the government sets targets for the proportion of pupils at each of these levels and LAs are required to set local targets, together with an action plan for achieving them.  A series of ‘preparatory’ levels, known as the P scales, has been developed to lead up to level 1 of the National Curriculum assessment for pupils with learning difficulties who make slower than normal progress and whose progress would otherwise not be captured by the staged approach appropriate for other pupils. The P scales have now been made part of the National Curriculum.

At Key Stage 4, pupils take externally set public examinations (the General Certificate of Secondary Education or other examinations such as National Vocational Qualifications). Entry Level Awards are designed for pupils with special educational needs. Foundation Learning is a flexible programme serving young people aged 14 – 19 (or up to age 24 if they have high-level special needs) who are mainly studying at Entry Level or Level 1 of the English National Qualifications Framework, below the lowest level of General Certificate of Secondary Education. It leads to combinations of small qualifications and is designed to help students progress to a positive destination such as skilled work, further learning or Apprenticeships.  Around half of the young people on Foundation Learning have special educational needs and nearly a quarter of them receive free school meals. 

The Department is reviewing Foundation Learning following an inquiry into vocational education. The Government has published its response to the  inquiry.  An independent evaluation of Foundation Learning is underway, and will be published in June 2011, and the review will take this into account as well as the vocational education inquiry. 

Last modified Jun 6, 2011

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