Education, training and employment outcomes are consistently poorer for children and young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) than for their peers. In 2023-24, 18% of pupils in all schools (1.7 million) were identified with SEND. This includes those with high needs who have formal education, health and care plans (EHCP), who may be taught in special or mainstream schools, and those who need some support but do not have an EHCP, taught in mainstream schools.

In September 2019, we reported that some pupils with SEND were receiving high‑quality support that met their needs, but many other pupils were not being supported effectively. We also found that the SEND system was not financially sustainable on current trends. In autumn 2019, the Department for Education (DfE) announced a review of SEND support and, in March 2023, published (jointly with the Department for Health and Social Care) a SEND and Alternative Provision improvement plan.


This study will examine DfE’s support for SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) in England, by considering whether DfE:

  • is supporting a sustainable SEND and AP system that delivers positive outcomes for children and young people
  • is taking effective action to deliver the longer-term systemic improvements identified in the SEND and Alternative Provision improvement plan

NAO Team

Director: Emma Willson
Audit Manager: David Raraty