Department of Education

Research projects

The unequal representation of ethnic minorities in Special Education in England: Extent, causes and consequences

This project will determine whether pupils from some ethnic minorities are more likely to be identified with some types of special educational needs compared to White British pupils, and whether this can be explained by demographic variables such as poverty or educational achievement.

Extensive research in the US has established that Black students are substantially more likely to be identified with Special Educational Needs (SEN) than other ethnic groups, and the only nationally representative study in England in the last 25 years (Strand & Lindsay, 2009) reports a similar pattern. There are concerns this ethnic disproportionality reflects bias in school identification processes and results in inappropriate special education provision. However relatively little is known about the factors which contribute to disproportionality, largely because studies are almost exclusively based on aggregate district or school level data that do not allow the sophisticated analyses possible only with student level data. In contrast the England National School Census (SC) offers student level data for over 6 million students at each census. The proposed research will use these data to: (i) extend the analysis of the 2005 census reported by Strand & Lindsay through to the 2015, identifying trends in disproportionality over a full 10-year period; (ii) determine whether socio-economic factors such as poverty and neighbourhood deprivation can account for ethnic disproportionality in a range of SEN; (iii) analyse data longitudinally for a primary (age 4-11) and secondary (age 11-16) national cohort, and (iv) explore the impact of school composition and the variability in disproportionality across schools and Local Authorities (LAs).

  • Executive summary

  • Technical report

  • Additional outputs

  • Reports for Local Authorities

Research Team

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