SEND Education – Early years

This is article is part of a series on SEND education. This covers early years support, including specialist insights and local provision.

Use these links to navigate to other pages or use the links at the bottom of each page.

  1. Introduction
  2. Support in Early Years
  3. Moving on to School
  4. Extra Support in School
  5. Post 16 transition
  6. Additional topics – transport, exclusion, advice on school absence

If you are looking for a link to a particular service please also look at our support links page. If you would like more information, or if you spot an error please contact us.

Support in the Early Years

Most children start school at some point in the school year when they turn five, but from 0-5 different early years options are available. This page explains how these early years settings support children with special educational needs (SEN).

From birth to two

If your child has complex needs, these may have been picked up at birth by health practitioners or through screening tests. Your own observations of your baby as they develop are important. If you have any worries about your child’s development, it’s important to share these with your doctor or health visitor.

Some children with SEN may be diagnosed with a medical condition, but a child does not need a diagnosis to have SEN.

Your child may be referred to specialists such as educational psychologists or speech and language therapists.

Managed by a Senior Educational Psychologist as part of the Educational Psychology Service (Education and Skills – CYPS Directorate). The service offers the following:

  • Home visiting service to support families of a child with acute disability or support needs (delays in two or more areas of development)
  • Implement a highly structured, intensive teaching programme
  • Support with implementation of therapy programmes
  • Liaise with a range of other involved professions and relevant organisations
  • Provide benefits advice to parents
  • Support transitions into local and specialist provision
  • Mentor staff in settings where portage children attend
  • Offer portage training to parents and practitioners

The service can be accessed by professional and parental referral. Health visitors, social workers, early years workforce and child development centres can refer directly.

Early years settings can include childminders, day nurseries, pre-schools, holiday playschemes and childcare in your own home. The law refers to these as “early years settings” or “providers.” For more information please see the contact website.

Some providers specialise in support for disabled children and children with special educational needs. If your child has complex SEN they may be offered a place in a specialist nursery.

The local authority has a duty to make sure there are enough early years options for all families in the area who need it and must help you to find one that is right for your family.

Children with additional needs in early years settings

Mainstream settings must take steps to include and support children with SEN and any medical condition they have.

The setting cannot refuse to take your child because they are disabled or have SEN. Local authorities must make sure that all settings that provide free early education receive additional funding to support those children who need extra help.

All early years providers must follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. This includes having arrangements in place to identify and support disabled children and children who have, or may have, SEN and medical conditions.

Early years settings will use this framework to continually observe and review how your child is learning, and parents’ insights are an important part of this. The framework includes two formal reviews:

  • one at age two, looking at language and communication and physical, personal, social and emotional development
  • one at age five, looking at literacy, mathematics, understanding the world and expressive arts and design.

What support can I expect my child to receive?

Early years settings that receive government funding must have a Special Educational Needs Coordinator or SENCO. This is a teacher who is responsible for making sure all the children with SEN have the support they need.

Your child should also have a named keyworker – this is the person who is responsible for your child on a daily basis. This is the person to speak to first if you have any worries or just want to talk about how your child is doing.

The approach to support children with SEN includes four stages:

  • Assess

The early years setting, together with the SENCO and parents, should work to explore the cause of any learning difficulty or delay.

  • Plan

Staff should talk to you about your child and the extra help you think they need and seek more information if needed. For example, they may ask an educational psychologist to visit and advise them how to help your child. There should be a written plan setting out this support.

  • Do

Depending on their needs, your child may receive extra help from an adult or help in a small group, for example to learn language skills. Sometimes a specialist may work with your child directly or set up a programme and train staff to follow it.

  • Review

The setting should agree with you when your child’s progress will be reviewed. The review is a chance to look at your child’s progress, whether the support is working and whether your child needs more or a different kind of help.

What if my child needs a lot more help?

If your child needs more help than the early years setting can normally provide, they may need an Education Health and Care needs assessment, which may lead to an Education Health and Care plan.