Children with special educational needs who attend nurseries based in primary schools are significantly less likely to be admitted to the school’s reception class than their peers, report reveals.
Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have found that some schools discourage the admission of preschool children with complex needs.
Funding cuts and accountability pressures have disincentivised schools from admitting these pupils, academics suggest.
More than a quarter (26 per cent) of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) statements move on to other schools, compared to 18 per cent of children with no recorded SEND.
The report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation charity, says the vulnerable group “does not benefit from being able to transition smoothly into reception class with a high continuity of peers.”
Children with SEND could be moving to access better provision – but there is also evidence that schools play a part in encouraging the pupils to move to alternative institutions, researchers found.
The report also reveals that a quarter of Black Caribbean children who attend a school nursery move for reception compared to 17 per cent of White British children.
It recommends that local authorities are given the resources to address transitions between schools for children with SEND statements and some minority ethnic groups.
Dr Tammy Campbell, one of the authors of the study, said: “It’s very possible that continuity of transition for children with special educational needs and disabilities has become even less stable in the most recent years.
“Funding cuts combined with target-based school accountability measures mean that schools are disincentivised from admitting these pupils.”
The report examined more than half a million children born in 2006-07, who became eligible for free early education between January 2010 and September 2010, in nearly 25,000 settings.
It also found that summer-born children are less likely to attend a school nursery and are more likely to enter primary school with no peers known from pre-school.
The report says it is a “concern” as summer-born children are known to be at a disadvantage through their educational careers, in terms of attainment as well as socially and emotionally.
Dr Kitty Stewart, lead author and associate director of the centre for analysis of social exclusion at LSE, said: “There are aspects of the way early education policy is currently working that are increasing rather than narrowing inequalities between children.
“Government urgently needs to review its provision with a sharper focus on ensuring that all children get the best start in life.”
Tiffnie Harris, primary specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “A nursery child with complex needs may sometimes not go into the corresponding primary school because they require a higher level of specialist support than the primary school can provide, and in these cases other provision where they can access this support is a better option.
"Primary schools are doing their very best for all their children in extremely challenging circumstances of inadequate funding and widespread recruitment problems which make it increasingly difficult to provide specialist support.”
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is exactly the same for every other child – to make the most of early education, do well in school and to live happy and fulfilled lives.
“The School Admissions Code is clear that children with SEND cannot be refused a place in a mainstream school on the grounds of having SEND and the Children and Families Act 2014 reinforces the rights of children with SEND to attend mainstream schools.
“Local authorities are required to have inclusion funds for all three and four-year-olds with SEND who are taking up early education entitlements. These funds are intended to support local authorities to work with providers to address the needs of individual children with SEND.”