Learning about surveying young people with SEN

Learn about the first wave of a feasibility study informing the design of a new longitudinal study of children and young people with SEND in England.
A mother and child sitting at a laptop filling out an online survey

About the study

The SEND Futures Discovery Phase study is a two-wave feasibility study carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), in collaboration with the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) on behalf of the Department for Education. The study is informing plans to establish a large-scale longitudinal survey with children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England.

In the first wave of the study (undertaken in spring/summer 2022), surveys were carried out with young people with SEN aged 12-13 and their parents or guardians.

A key aim of the study was to trial approaches to maximising response within groups who are seldom heard in survey research – specifically, children who are 'looked after' or otherwise deemed vulnerable, those from lower income households, and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. 

These aims were reflected in the sampling and fieldwork approach, and several randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were carried out to test response maximisation initiatives. Furthermore, wave 1 comprised two strands of fieldwork, a face-to-face and a web strand. The web strand consisted of a nationally representative sample of young people with SEN in the relevant age group. In contrast, the face-to-face strand involved young people with SEN from the seldom heard groups listed above.

Key findings

  • Within the face-to-face strand of ‘seldom heard’ groups, 46% of households took part. Among the families invited to take part online, 20% of households took part.
  • A number of response maximisation initiatives were found to be effective. In the face-to-face strand, the use of unconditional incentives (£5 for each participant) resulted in an increased response rate of 4ppts at the household level when compared with a £10 conditional incentive for each participant given upon completion of the survey. 
  • In the web strand, a higher incentive value (£10, rather than £5) resulted in an increase in household level response of 7ppts, and a shorter survey length (20 minutes, rather than 30 minutes) in a 3ppt increase in household level response. 
  • In 13% of households in the face-to-face strand where the parent took part, the face-to-face survey mode was not accessible to the young person. 
  • Being unable to participate in a face-to-face interview due to their SEN was particularly common among young people with autism. These young people were also the group most likely to have received a lot of help to complete their web survey.
  • A relatively high proportion of cases in the web strand completed only a parent or a young person interview: of households where at least one interview was completed, in 28% only a parent had taken part, and in 16% only a young person had taken part. 
  • Within the face-to-face strand, someone else was present in 73% of young person interviews and in 41% of parent/guardian interviews. 


  • Wave 1 of the study comprised two strands of fieldwork, a face-to-face and a web strand. Within each strand, surveys were conducted with young people with SEN and their parent or guardian. 2,992 young people and 3,526 parents/guardians took part.
  • The face-to-face strand comprised young people with SEN from groups who are seldom heard in survey research: young people who were ‘looked after’ or otherwise vulnerable (‘in need’), young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and young people eligible for free school meals. The web strand comprised a nationally representative sample of young people with SEN in the relevant age group. 
  • Sample was selected from the National Pupil Database (NPD). 
  • At wave 1 the young people were all in Year 8 in the 2021/22 academic year and attending English state school education. All were identified as having SEN on the NPD.
  • Several RCTs were carried out to test response maximisation initiatives. These included testing conditional versus unconditional incentives within a face-to-face fieldwork context; provision of additional interviewer training (face-to-face strand); incentives values of conditional incentives (web strand); varying survey length (web strand); use of pre-notification communications (web strand); and use of tailored messaging (both strands). 
  • The study collected data on a range of topics including details of the young person’s needs, the support they received and any unmet needs. Data were also collected on the young people’s experiences at school, including practicalities around travelling to school and how they got on both academically and socially. Young people’s wellbeing and expectations for the future were also captured.