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The demand for, and supply of, therapists for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – A scoping study


Seeking to deepen the evidence base for the SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper published by the DHSC and DfE in 2022, this study seeks to scope the structure and character of the workforce providing speech and language, occupational and physiotherapy for children and young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). The study is framed by a broader interest in the demand and supply of such therapies. Various bodies representing the therapy professions, parents and charities have suggested a gap in the demand for, and supply of, these therapies for children and young people with SEND. However, existing data are not refined or sensitive enough to assess the precise scale and nature of this gap, and the responses that might, therefore, be made to address it.


The study aims to explore a key aspect of this demand-supply issue: workforce capacity to deliver therapies to children and young people with SEND. More specifically the proposed study is designed to:

  • Develop a broad understanding of the size of the workforce delivering therapies to children and young people with SEND.
  • Examine the structure and nature of this workforce in terms of work roles, grades and skill mix.
  • Explore the working arrangements for this workforce: the employing organisations and patterns of employment.
  • Highlight the perceived challenges faced in managing this workforce and the responses to them.
  • Consider whether and how this workforce can and has been accessed by service users, and any challenges and barriers to this process.


NIHR Policy Research Programme


May–October 2023


This study is exploratory and seeks to develop a general response to the above questions, drawing on the views of policy makers, practitioners and other experts. This will pave the way for further research using more precisely formulated research instruments and extending to the demand side of the issue: the need for these therapies.

The principal research method used in the study will be in-depth interviews with stakeholders including:

  • Leading policy makers
  • Representatives from professional bodies and trade unions
  • Representatives from service user organisations
  • Organisations employing therapists and providing therapy services to children and young people with SEND.

Around 15-20 interviews will be completed.

For any questions about the study please contact the principal researcher:

Ian Kessler, Professor of Policy & Management, King's College London:

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator