SEN roles and responsibilities in the early years
Are early years providers included in the SEN Code of Practice?
All early years providers in the maintained, private, voluntary and independent sectors that a local authority (LA) funds are required to have regard to the SEN Code of Practice. Providers must have a clear approach to identifying and responding to SEN and disabilities. The Code points out that the benefits of early identification are widely recognised, since identifying need early and then making effective provision improves long-term outcomes for children. It also says that, 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.
What do they do?
Early years providers should regularly review and evaluate the support that they offer for children with SEN. For example, maintained nursery schools must cooperate with the LA in reviewing the provision that is available locally. Providers should also work in partnership with other local education providers to explore how different types of need can be met most effectively. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is the statutory framework for children aged from birth to five years. The Code says that all early years providers must follow the safeguarding and welfare requirements of the EYFS and the learning and development requirements, unless an exemption from these has been granted.
What is expected of early years providers?
The Code makes it clear from the outset that it is concerned with improving outcomes for all children with SEN and this includes having high aspirations and expectations for them. It states that all children are entitled to an education that enables them to:
- achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes
- become confident young children with a growing ability to communicate their own views, and ready to make the transition into compulsory education.
What SEN support is available?
Where an early years setting identifies a child as having SEN they must work in partnership with parents to establish the support the child needs. All settings should adopt a graduated approach with four stages of action:
The Code says that maintained nursery schools must:
- use their best endeavours to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need
- ensure that children with SEN engage in the activities of school alongside children who do not have SEN
- designate a teacher to be responsible for coordinating SEN provision
- inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child.
Practitioners must also maintain a record of children under their care as required by the EYFS framework, which must be available to parents and must state how the setting supports children with SEN. In addition, maintained nursery schools must also prepare a report on:
- the implementation of their SEN policy
- their arrangements for the admission of disabled children
- the steps taken to prevent disabled children from being treated less favourably
- the facilities provided to enable access for disabled children
- their accessibility plan, showing how they plan to improve access over time.
What funding is available?
LAs (if they are responsible for the early years setting) should make sure funding arrangements for early education reflect the need to provide suitable support for these children. Early years providers should consider how best to use their resources to support the progress of children with SEN.
Is there a SENCO?
A maintained nursery school must ensure that there is a qualified teacher designated as a SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) to ensure implementation of support for children with SEN. The EYFS framework also requires other early years providers to have arrangements for meeting children’s SEN and they are expected to identify a SENCO. The SENCO’s role includes:
- ensuring all practitioners in the setting understand their responsibilities to children with SEN and the setting’s approach to identifying and meeting SEN
- advising and supporting colleagues
- ensuring parents are closely involved throughout and that their insights inform action taken by the setting
- liaising with professionals or agencies beyond the setting.
Is there any other oversight?
Yes, LAs may appoint Area SENCOs to provide advice and guidance to early years providers on the development of inclusive early learning environments. The Area SENCO plays an important part in planning for children with SEN to transfer between early years provision and schools. The Area SENCO also helps make links between education, health and care providers.
The role of the Area SENCO includes:
- providing advice and practical support to early years providers about approaches to identification, assessment and intervention
- providing day-to-day support for setting-based SENCOs
- strengthening links between settings, parents, schools, care and health services
- developing and disseminating good practice
- supporting development and delivery of training, both for individual settings and on a wider basis
- developing links with existing SENCO networks
- informing parents of and working with local impartial information, advice and support services (See SEN84, Sept./Oct. 2016).
What about disabled children or those with medical conditions?
The Code focuses on inclusive practice and removing barriers to learning. It states that all publicly funded early years providers must promote equality of opportunity for disabled children. All early years providers also have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to not discriminate against, harass or victimise disabled children. They must also make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aids and services for disabled children, to prevent them being put at a substantial disadvantage. In compliance with the EYFS Framework, they must also ensure that children with medical conditions get the support required to meet those needs.
What about reviewing all of this?
Under the EYFS framework, practitioners must maintain a record of children under their care, which must be available to parents and include how the setting supports children with SEN. Providers should also review how well equipped they are to provide support for children with SEN.
Douglas Silas is the Principal of Douglas Silas Solicitors and runs the website: www.SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk. He is also the author of A Guide To The SEND Code of Practice (What You Need To Know), which is available for all eBook readers: www.AGuideToTheSENDCodeOfPractice.co.uk
The advice provided here is of a general nature and Douglas Silas Solicitors cannot be held responsible for any loss caused by reliance placed upon it.