Learning Disability Statistics

Numbers of Children

The "People with Learning Disabilities in England 2013" report by the Improving Health and Lives Learning Disabilities Observatory (IHAL) estimated the number of children with SLD in English schools at 30,440 and those with PMLD at 10,525. The report also established that 22% of SLD children are educated in mainstream schools (leaving 23,743 in Special Schools); and 17% of PMLD children are educated in mainstream schools (leaving 8,736 in Special Schools). That gives a total of 32,479 SLD/PMLD children in Special Schools in England. Our own research, developed from the Department for Education EduBase, has recorded 600 SLD/PMLD Special Schools in England which gives an average of 54 SLD/PMLD pupils per school.

Using population estimates from the Office for National Statistics we have extrapolated the figures for England to give a pro-rata UK-wide total of 48,700 school-age children with SLD/PMLD of which 38,600 attend a Special School.

Numbers of Adults

Figures for adults are not kept but in the 2001 White Paper “Valuing People” The Department of Health estimated there were 145,000 adults with SLD/PMLD in England and that there would be 163,000 by 2013. The 2008 “People with Learning Disabilities in England” study by the Centre for Disability Research estimated that 80,000 of those attended a Day Centre (we roughly estimate that there are 575 Day Centres in England giving an average of 139 per Day Centre). In addition the “Count Me In 2010” Care Quality Commission census identified a further 3,315 adults in 129 Care Homes, an average of 26 per Care Home.

Again, extrapolating the figures for England gives a pro-rata UK-wide total of 224,000 adults with SLD/PMLD of which 115,000 attend a Day Centre or are resident in a Care Home.


The IHAL report estimates that 35% of children with SLD and 28% of children with PMLD in English schools are entitled to free school meals compared with 18% of all pupils.


The Department for Education “Schools, Pupils, And Their Characteristics, January 2013” report estimates that 73% of all pupils are “white British” whereas the IHAL report estimates that 71% of children with SLD and 64% of children with PMLD are recorded as “white British”. The report concludes that “these differences primarily reflect the higher rates of severe and profound multiple learning difficulties among ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Bangladeshi’ children.”

The benefits of multi-sensory storytelling

In November 2011 we conducted an in-depth survey of Special Needs Teachers. The survey found that through using multi-sensory books:

  • 99% had experienced children developing a reaction to stimuli;
  • 98% had experienced children developing their participation in shared activities;
  • 97% had experienced children developing an interest in people, events or objects;
  • 96% had experienced children developing their focus of attention on people, events or objects;
  • 95% had experienced children developing their acceptance and engagement in coactive or shared exploration;
  • 93% had experienced children developing their awareness of activities and experiences; and
  • 92% had experienced children developing their turn-taking.

In addition 86% of the teachers reported that multi-sensory books were used at least weekly including 36% who said daily.

In 2014 Northampton University completed "An Evaluation of Bag Books Multi-Sensory Stories”. The study states, “It is clear from our research that Bag Books are considered to be an important tool for making English and literacy – as well as a wide range of other curriculum topics – accessible and for bringing significant pleasure to a large number of students.”