Here’s why special needs children are battling to get into mainstream schools

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: United Kingdom

Organisation: JPIMedia (project shared across all titles)

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 19/08/2019

Credit: Aimee Stanton, Claire Wilde

Project description:

A child’s first day at school is always an emotional time but when your child has special educational needs (SEN) just finding a place in a school can be a challenge. My investigation into SEN children in mainstream schools used publicly available data from the Department of Education (England and Northern Ireland departments), the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government to analyse inclusion rates across mainstream schools in each UK nation.


Impact reached:

My analysis revealed there has been a decline in the number of SEN children attending mainstream schools in England, despite laws introduced six years ago meaning children with SEN should go to mainstream schools where possible. Commenting on the findings a leading disability charity said pupils are being “forced” into special schools. However, in Scotland I discovered there had been a sharp rise in the overall number of children registered as having Additional Support Needs (ASN) in mainstream schools since 2012. A pupil support assistant (PSA) from Edinburgh told me the system was still playing catch up and PSAs were often struggling to work with highly vulnerable children due to a lack of support and training. Inclusion figures in Northern Ireland and Wales remained relatively steady over the same period though. This story was shared across all JPIMedia titles and used in over 60 local and regional newspapers, including i News, Yorkshire Post and the Sheffield Star.

Techniques/technologies used:

I used Microsoft Excel for analysing the data and Google Sheets for sharing my findings with our titles.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project was cleaning the data to deliver it in a straight forward way to help our reporters who are less familiar with datasets understand their top lines. This meant they could then use a simplified version of the governments’ datasets.

What can others learn from this project?

I hope this project/story would have helped people think more about interpreating the human stories behind numbers. While we had two very different tales in Scotland and England it wasn’t until we spoke to case studies directly that we could better understand what the numbers were telling us. For example, Scottish schools are becoming more inclusive, but at what cost? To better understand what this meant for schools we spoke to a PSA who explained that despite schools becoming more inclusive, the system is still playing catch up to accomodate potentially vulnerable children. 

Project links: