MORE Essex schoolchildren than ever before are being given direct support from the state for their special educational needs.

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Teaching officials said last night that it was a sign the county was making great efforts to ensure all children were supported, and that education chiefs were intervening early where necessary.

Special educational needs (SEN) refers to needs children may have as a result of learning difficulties or a disability which makes it harder for them to learn and make progress.

The number of children in Essex with a “statement of special educational needs” – a formal document detailing a child’s learning difficulties and the help that will be given – increased from 5,695 to 6,640 between 2011 and 2012, showing an increase of 16.6% compared to a national reduction of 0.2%.

A total of 985 new statements of SEN were issued in Essex in 2011 – the highest number issued by any local authority across the country, the next highest being Kent with 755. The figures are included in a report which was presented to Essex County Council’s Children and Young People Committee.

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex branch of the National Union of Teachers said the report is a sign that the county council is doing more to support children with SEN.

He said: “It’s an illustration that Essex is addressing SEN in a constructive way and enabling children who have the statement to access the additional resources that come with it. I would regard it as a positive thing.

“Statements are a mechanism for unlocking additional support. That may be on a one-to-one level with a teaching assistant in a primary school to enable them to remain included in an ordinary school situation, which is important, or it may be through part-time additional support.”

The report also shows that Essex has considerably more pupils with moderate learning difficulties than seen nationally.

In primary schools 34.5% of SEN pupils have mild learning difficulties as their primary need, compared to 21.8% nationally.

A county council spokesman said: “We have close working relationships with mainstream and special schools and are committed to using the statementing process to meet children’s needs.

“We are looking carefully at government plans to reform the statementing process with a new Education, Health and Social Care Plan and expect this to ensure that children with clearly identified special educational needs have their needs met. We are looking to talk widely over the spring to parents and professionals with a view to refreshing the Essex SEN Strategy.

“This will include reviewing early intervention that supports children before reaching the need for a statement.”

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