SEN Support in the early years

Identifying SEN

Early years practitioners monitor and review the progress and development of all children throughout the early years. Where a child appears to be behind expected levels, or their progress gives cause for concern, practitioners will consider all the information about the child’s learning and development. Some of this information will come from within the setting through formal checks, practitioner observations and any more detailed assessment of the child’s needs. Practitioners will particularly consider information on the child’s progress in (a) communication and language, (b) physical development and (c) personal, social and emotional development. Where any specialist advice has been sought from outside the setting, this should also inform decisions about whether or not a child has SEN. Parents’ observations of their children will also be taken into account, and all information gathered will be discussed with parents.

Where a child has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than their peers, or a disability that presents a barrier to accessing the setting’s facilities, special educational provision will be made by the setting. Special educational provision must be matched to the child’s identified SEN, and therefore the setting must have a good understanding of the child’s strengths and needs. The setting must make its best efforts to overcome barriers to learning and participation, by targeting the child’s areas of need using well-evidenced interventions and (where necessary) specialist equipment. Support should be family-centred and should consider the individual family’s needs and the best ways to support them. As part of an assessment of need, and to inform the next steps to be taken, it is necessary to review the effective of interventions in enabling children to make progress (eg “what’s working … not working'”). There is a wide range of information available on early years and early intervention and on different areas of need and the most effective interventions.

Where a setting identifies a child as having SEN they must work in partnership with parents to establish the support the child needs. Where a setting makes special educational provision for a child with SEN they should inform the parents. All settings should adopt a graduated approach with four stages of action: assess, plan, do and review.

Transition to another setting or school

SEN support will include planning and preparing for transition, before a child moves into another setting or school. This would include a review of the SEN support being provided. To support the transition, information should be shared by the current setting with the receiving setting or school. The current setting should agree with parents the information to be shared as part of this planning process.

Involving specialists

If a setting has used evidence-based support and interventions matched to a child’s area of need, but the child continues to make less than expected progress, then practitioners will consider involving appropriate specialists from outside the setting. These might include: health visitors, speech and language therapists, outreach or support workers, educational psychologists or specialist teachers. External specialists may be able to identify effective strategies, equipment, programmes or other interventions to enable the child to make progress towards the desired learning and development outcomes. Any decision to involve specialists will be made in consultation, and with the agreement of the child’s parents.

Requesting an Education, Health and Care needs assessment

If the setting has taken action to identify, assess and meet a child’s special educational needs, but the child has not made expected progress, then the setting will consider requesting an Education, Health and Care needs assessment.

Record keeping

Practitioners maintain a record of all children under their care, and these records must be made available to parents. For children with SEN and disabilities, these records will include how the setting supports them.

Keeping provision under review

Providers should review how well equipped they are to provide support across the four broad areas of SEN – cognition and learning; communication and interaction; physical and sensory; social, emotional and mental health. Information on these areas is collected through the Early Years Census, and is reported annually in the Department for Education’s publication ‘Children and Young People with SEN: an analysis’.

The SENCO in the early years

Where nursery education is provided by a school, there will be a qualified teacher designated as the SENCO, who has the prescribed qualification for SEN Coordination or relevant experience. Preschool or nursery groups (in the private, voluntary or independent sector) are expected to identify a SENCO, as are childminders who may identify a SENCO from a network.


  • ensures all practitioners in the setting understand their responsibilities to children with SEN and the setting’s approach to identifying and meeting SEN
  • advises and supports colleagues
  • ensure parents are closely involved throughout and that their insights inform action taken by the setting, and
  • liaises with external professionals or agencies

The local authority ensures there is sufficient expertise and experience amongst local early years providers to support children with SEN.

Funding for SEN support in the early years

The local authority must ensure that all providers delivering funded early education places meet the needs of children with SEN and disabled children. In order to do this the local authority has funding arrangements in place so that early education are able to provide suitable support for these children. Funding for SEN support may be provided by a combination of the following (subject to eligibility) – the Free Early Education Entitlement, SEN premium, Inclusion Grant and Early Years Pupil Premium. Early years providers should consider how best to use their resources to support the progress of children with SEN.

Useful resources

SEN Support in the Early Years – a Graduated Approach (Section 5 of SEN & Disability in the Early Years, a toolkit published by the Council for Disabled Children and 4Children for early years’ practitioners)

Information about School SEN Support