Nurseries labelling one-year-olds as 'special needs'


Children as young as one are  being labelled as having special educational needs by their nurseries, official figures by the Department for Education show.

Nearly 18,000 pre-school children are classified as having some form of special needs – including 1,400 under the age of three.

The vast majority were categorised by nursery staff rather than specialists making a formal assessment. By the age of five, more than one in six children – 173,525 – has been diagnosed as having special needs. Most are diagnosed during their first year at school, although some are as young as one.

While many will benefit from early identification of genuine needs, others with problems such as mild emotional or behavioural difficulties may simply require strong pastoral care.

The disclosure follows an announcement by ministers that a shake-up of the special needs system will crack down on ‘over-identification’.

Reforms coming into effect within two years will give schools tighter guidance on which children they should identify as having special needs.

Figures released by the Department for Education showed that 19.8 per cent of children across the school system – more than 1.6million – have been given the label.

Twice as many boys as girls are diagnosed. One in four boys is said to have special needs, against 13 per cent of girls.

The most commonly-diagnosed need is behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, but the Government believes the category is unhelpful and over-used.