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Meeting the needs of all children

Support every child to achieve their best outcomes including children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

As stated in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, “providers must have arrangements in place to support children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)”.

Your role in supporting children is especially important as this will likely be the child’s first experience of education outside of the home. You should make this a positive, safe and inclusive experience for every child.

Supporting children to build strong foundations

All children are entitled to a high-quality education that promotes high standards, is appropriate to their needs, and helps them to achieve their best possible outcomes and fulfil their potential.

By getting to know your children well, you will notice that children learn at different rates, some may struggle to do some of the things that other children may already be capable of. This is part of normal childhood development and may just indicate that, with minor adjustments to the teaching methods, or the provision of small amounts of support, encouragement and additional help, good progress can be made. It is therefore important that early delays or difficulties lead to the right sort of help and are not necessarily regarded as an indication of a long-term special educational need or disability.

Not all needs will be long term, but it is important that where you might have some concerns, you plan their activities and curriculum in a way that supports those children early on. One example would be a child who has grown up in a home where the adults are not in the habit of engaging their child in conversation regularly. This could mean the child has not learnt turn-taking or eye contact and so on for conversations. The child may also not know as many words as other children of the same age. This does not necessarily mean they have SEND but they will need help, support and encouragement to develop their early language skills and vocabulary. You can support them to improve their communication and language by modelling turn taking in conversation with other children or adults and by reading to them frequently, so that they experience new words daily. Development Matters provides many examples of how to support babies’ and children’s communication and language development. They will quite quickly return to making good progress again with sensitive support and close working partnerships with parents and carers.

This early support can make all the difference to a child’s learning and development and can help a child overcome an additional need altogether. It is crucial that settings spend time with their children to really get to know them – how they learn, what they enjoy, what they might struggle with, where they may need more support in to secure their learning. This all helps to build strong and solid foundations for their future growth development.

Some needs may be greater and there may be concerns that further support or interventions are needed to help meet that child’s needs. As set out in the EYFS, all early years providers are required to have arrangements in place to identify and support children with SEND and to promote equality of opportunity for children in their care. It is equally important that children who do not have SEND or require additional support understand that some children may have different needs to them and how to respond appropriately to them

Teaching, curriculums and care should be adaptive, responding to the needs of children which may include providing targeted support to children who are at risk of falling behind. Providers should ensure environments are inclusive, by aiming high, being ambitious and be willing to find different ways to engage with children, changing approaches or removing barriers to enable them to reach their potential. Some things may be differentiated to help facilitate learning in a way that supports a child that might have difficulties communicating through speech or understanding written words. For example, using a visual timetable to help some children to understand a routine or incorporating Makaton into songs and stories.

Working together

To build a whole picture of the child, it is important that you work in partnership with other adults in the setting such as the SENCO (if relevant to your setting), teaching and nursery assistants and any relevant local agencies to gather their views and observations. These views and observations should feed into your assessments of a child and help you to make your own strong and informed professional judgments about that child. You can make all the difference to a child’s experience and development.

You need to build strong relationships with children’s parents or carers and involve them in supporting their children and meeting their needs throughout their time in your care. Parents or carers know their children best and may have important insights into their development that could help identify needs early and help build the right support package for their child.

You are also required to review children’s progress at age 2 and share a summary with parents. More information can be found in the EYFS framework, page 13, paragraphs 2.25-2.29, childminder EYFS, page 19, paragraphs 2.26-2.10, group and school-based EYFS.

Health care officials such as health visitors are also important in helping to build a full picture of a child and any potential concerns about their development. Parents should be involved in the planning support and, where appropriate, there may be things you can do to support the child’s learning at home.

Where a child is subject to a referral or requires the use of a specific service, there are often opportunities to seek advice from professionals in order to provide a joined-up approach for the child and to inform how you can best support the child. For example, services such as Occupational Health can provide specialised equipment to support children to access your setting and take part in activities.

Supporting and identifying SEND

Needs should be identified accurately and support put in place quickly in order to give all children the best opportunities to achieve their potential. Identifying a need but not acting on it can be detrimental in the long term.

Children with complex developmental and sensory needs are likely to be identified at birth through health assessments whilst other children may have needs identified following the 2-year progress check. In addition to the formal checks, early years practitioners play a crucial role in monitoring and reviewing the progress and development of all children. Observations and professional judgements may identify that a child has special educational needs.

Identifying children who are presenting with less complex or hidden needs can sometimes be more challenging than identifying more apparent special educational needs and disabilities. As outlined above, there are many reasons why children might not make the progress expected over a period of time. It is important that you identify any gaps in a timely way and work with the child to help them overcome and bridge those gaps.

As a starting point, Development Matters provides some observational checkpoints to help you to consider potential areas of need, but this guidance is not designed to be used as a tracker or tick list that generates lots of paperwork. Some examples of the checkpoints to consider include:

  • Communication and language - for children age birth to 3, watch out for children whose speech is not easily understood by unfamiliar adults. Monitor their progress and consider whether a hearing test might be needed.

  • Personal, social and emotional development - for children age 3-4, watch out for children who seem worried, sad or angry for much of the time, children who seem to flit from one thing to the next or children who seem to stay for over-long periods doing the same thing, and become distressed if they are encouraged to do something different. You will need to work closely with parents and other agencies to find out more about these developmental difficulties.

Whilst one of the aims of the EYFS reforms (2021) was to reduce unnecessary paperwork and tracking, appropriate records should be kept if it benefits the child to do so. This can be particularly helpful information for the receiving school when a child transitions to reception or Year 1. Where routine observation raises a potential concern for a child’s development, you should liaise with your SENCO (if relevant to your setting) and the child’s parents or carers early on.

Resources to help support your children and identify their needs

Providers should develop a curriculum that aims to meet the needs of all children, including those with SEND. Guidance is available to support curriculum planning and help providers to keep in mind those children who may need additional support.

Where a practitioner assessment suggests more formal support is required practitioners should work closely with parents and other practitioners and follow the ‘graduated approach’ in the special educational needs and disability (SEND) code of practice. This covers the support process for children with identified SEND, covering 4 areas of need: cognition, learning, communication and interaction. Practitioner and parent observations are key in informing decisions to instate more formal support requirements such as the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Practitioners can use toolkits to help them assess children’s ongoing needs and ensure that the right support is in place from as early as possible. Various toolkits are available and you can work together with your local authority to help develop a pathway for getting further support, we’ve included some examples below:

  • NASEN provides SEND resources that enables access to a broad range of materials and support services across the range of SEND.
  • Early Support provides a range of information materials to families and professionals.
  • Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families have created another useful guidance document on taking a celebratory approach to working with children with SEND. It offers a practical toolkit with examples of how to support them and potential frameworks you could use to identify, support and assess children with SEND.