Last reviewed 2 April 2020

Following the introduction of the SEND reforms, it is clear that early years practitioners play a key role in the new SEN support system, and it is vital that providers understand their duties and responsibilities in relation to the new SEND Code of Practice and the Children and Families Act 2014. Elizabeth Walker looks at the current guidance for early years providers on supporting children with special educational needs in their care.

Key changes

The main changes arising from the SEND reform are as follows.

  • Services across education, health and care are jointly commissioned.

  • Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans replace Statements of Special Educational Needs and Learning Difficulty Assessments for children with more complex needs with the option of a personal budget for families and young people who want one.

  • SEN support replaces School Action and School Action Plus for children who do not need an EHC plan. This is a graduated approach to supporting children with SEN with four stages of action: assess, plan, do and review. Providers must work in partnership with parents to establish the support the child needs.

  • A local offer of services across education, health and social care with children, young people and parents involved in preparing and reviewing it. Early years providers must co-operate with the local authority in the development and review of the local offer.

Role and responsibilities

Building on best practice in the EYFS, the SEND Code of Practice: 0-25 sets clear expectations for early years provisions to give young children with SEN a good start by adopting a graduated approach to support and focusing on outcomes. The EYFS framework requires all early years providers to have arrangements in place to identify and support children with SEN or disabilities, and to promote equality of opportunity for children in their care. These arrangements should include a clear approach to identifying and responding to SEN, with early identification a priority.

All those who work with young children should be alert to emerging difficulties and respond early. In particular, parents know their children best and it is important that all practitioners listen and understand when parents express concerns about their child’s development. They should also listen to and address any concerns raised by children themselves.

Maintained nursery schools must:

  • ensure that children with SEN gets the support they need

  • ensure that children with SEN engage in activities alongside children who do not have SEN

  • designate a teacher to be responsible for co-ordinating SEN provision (the SENCO)

  • inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child.

They must also prepare a report on:

  • the implementation of their SEN policy

  • their arrangements for the admission of disabled children

  • the steps being taken to prevent disabled children from being treated less favourably than others

  • the facilities provided to enable access to the school for disabled children

  • their accessibility plan showing how they intend to improve access over time.

Early years providers must provide information for parents on how they support children with SEN and disabilities, and should regularly review and evaluate the quality and breadth of the support they offer or can access.

Reviewing progress

Early years providers should have arrangements in place that include a clear approach to assessing SEN, and this should be part of the overall approach to monitoring the progress and development of all children. In assessing progress of children in the early years, practitioners can use the non-statutory Early Years Outcomes guidance as a tool to assess the extent to which a young child is developing at expected levels for their age. The guidance sets out what most children do at each stage of their learning and development and includes typical behaviours across the seven areas of learning.

The EYFS framework includes two specific points for providing written assessments for parents and other professionals, as follows.

  1. Progress check at age two. If there are significant emerging concerns (or identified SEN or disability), practitioners should develop a targeted plan to support the child involving other professionals such as the provision’s SENCO or the Area SENCO, as appropriate. From September 2015, a new integrated review will be implemented integrating the health and education development reviews that are currently carried out at age two.

  2. Assessment at the end of the EYFS. The EYFS profile provides parents, practitioners and teachers with a well-rounded picture of a child’s knowledge, understanding and abilities. A profile is usually completed for children in the final term of the reception year. It is particularly helpful for children with SEN and should inform plans for future learning and identify any additional needs for support.

Identifying SEN

In addition to the formal checks, practitioners should monitor and review the progress and development of all children throughout the early years. When a child’s progress gives cause for concern, practitioners should consider all the information about the child’s learning and development from within and beyond the provision. A delay in learning and development in the early years does not necessarily mean that a child has SEN. However, if practitioners or parents have concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are factors such as an underlying learning or communication difficulty.

Special educational provision should be matched to the child’s identified SEN. Children’s SEN are generally thought of in four broad areas of need and support: communication and interaction; cognition and learning; social, emotional and mental health; and sensory and/or physical needs.

Involving specialists

Where a child continues to make less than expected progress, despite evidence-based support and interventions that are matched to the child’s area of need, practitioners should consider involving appropriate specialists. These might include health visitors, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, etc who may be able to identify effective strategies, equipment, or interventions to enable the child to make progress towards their learning and development outcomes.

The decision to involve specialists should always be taken in partnership with the child’s parents. Where the child has not made expected progress despite the provision having taken relevant action to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child, the provision should consider requesting an EHC needs assessment.

Best practice

Early years providers must ensure that they implement all the changes arising from the SEND reforms. Good practice includes:

  • training staff (and volunteers) on their duties under the new SEND framework

  • allocating time for the SENCO/manager to plan and implement changes in the provision

  • ensuring the provision’s SEN policies and procedures are reviewed regularly

  • following the Code when identifying and supporting children with SEN and disabilities

  • communicating with parents about SEND changes and any local implications

  • transferring all children to SEN Support and the revised graduated approach

  • ensuring that all approaches and interventions are evidenced based and focus on outcomes for children rather than processes

  • bringing children identified with SEN to the attention of the local authority • placing children and parents at the centre of any SEN provision and decision making

  • working in partnership with the local authority and other services on local reforms, such as the local offer and where necessary on EHC assessments and plans

  • signposting families to local mediation services and impartial sources of support such as Information, Advice and Support Services

  • supporting the effective transitional planning and arrangements for children with SEN.

Further information

  • Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 Years, 2015, Department for Education (DfE)/Department of Health

  • Early Years: Guide to the 0 to 25 SEND Code of Practice Advice for Early Years Providers that are Funded by the Local Authority, 2014, DfE

  • Early Years Outcomes: A Non-statutory Guide for Practitioners and Inspectors to Help Inform Understanding of Child Development through the Early Years, 2013, DfE

  • Nasen SEND Gateway is an online portal offering education professionals free information, resources and training for meeting the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

  • The Foundation Years website offers information and support if you work in the early years and childcare delivering services for children and families.