Four out of five children taken into the UK care system require support for special educational needs, according to new research.

The study carried out by researchers from UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health , found that of the 6,240 children who entered the care system during their school years, 83% required additional special educational needs support (SEN) between the ages of five and 16.

The data shows that a much higher proportion of children who have entered care received in-school provision for SEN than would appear to be the case from official annual figures.

The researchers looked at data of almost half a million children who began school in September 2005.

Of those in care and requiring SEN provision, almost a quarter received an Education, Health and care Plan (EHCP) that legally requires local authorities to provide agreed additional support. This is generally required for the most high-need pupils.

Even for children not in care, the need for additional provision was found to be comparatively high at 37%. Of the 57,200 children defined as ‘in need’ (having come into contact with social services but not formally in care), 65% required additional SEN provision.

The new data contrasts with last year’s government data, which – based on just one year of schooling – showed fewer than 15% of pupils in England receiving SEN provision, and only 3.1% with an EHCP.

Speaking about the results, researchers said: “The data shows that a much higher proportion of children who have entered care received in-school provision for SEN than would appear to be the case from official annual figures.”

Lead author of the report Matthew Jay said: “These findings highlight just how important provision for special educational needs is for many thousands of children. Special educational needs provision affects a large segment of the population and for some groups, the large majority.

“Special educational needs can affect a child’s ability to learn and develop and they may struggle with their reading and writing, making friends and concentrating. This type of support can be very important for vulnerable children in contact with social care services.”

Ruth Gilbert, fellow author, added: “We know there are strong links between special educational needs, the need for social care support and health but we do not know whether changes in SEN provision in past years have impacted on the NHS or increases in social care referrals.”

The study has been published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood and comes at a time of concern around cuts to SEN provision. The government recently announced a full review of the SEN system and has invested an additional £780m to help with immediate need.

However, campaigners say it is not enough and continue to push for more long-term strategic action.

Young children playing on mat