Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and inclusive practice within the Early years foundation stage

A child has a special educational need if they have a learning difficulty or a disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for them. Special educational provision is any provision made for the child that is ‘additional to’ or ‘different from’ what is offered to other children of the same age in your setting.

Under the Equality Act 2010 (Gov.uk) you are considered to be disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal activities. Children with special educational needs may have difficulties in one or more of these broad areas:

  • cognition and learning
  • communication and interaction
  • physical and sensory
  • social, emotional and mental health

You are required to have arrangements in place to identify and support children with SEND promoting equality of opportunity for children in your care. Visit meet the needs of all children webpage to find out ways to improve your practice.

There are 3 key legal documents which inform you of your statutory duties and responsibilities for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (Gov.uk) is mandatory for all early years providers in England. The guiding principles of this framework apply to all children, including those with special educational needs or disabilities.

It is a legal requirement for you to identify a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) if you are a group provision. If you are a childminder, you are encouraged to identify a person to act as a SENCO.

If you are funded by the local council to deliver early education places you must have regard to the SEND code of practice: 0-25 years (Gov.uk).

The SEND code of practice contains:

  • details of legal requirements that you must follow without exception
  • statutory guidance that you must follow by law unless there’s a good reason not to

You have duties under the Equality Act 2010 (legislation.gov.uk) in which you must not discriminate against, harass or victimise disabled children, and you must make reasonable adjustments to prevent them being put at a disadvantage by any policies, practice or physical aspects of your setting.

Role of SENCO

The role of SENCO involves:

  • ensuring you understand the responsibilities and your approach to identifying and meeting the needs of children with SEND
  • advising and supporting colleagues
  • closely involving parents
  • liaising with professionals and other agencies beyond your setting

It is particularly important in the early years that there is no delay in making any necessary special educational provision. The SENCO should lead in adopting the graduated approach – assess, plan, do, review.

SEND support services in Northamptonshire

There are many different services available in Northamptonshire where you can access support and advice if you have identified a child with SEND.

The Local Offer in Northamptonshire help professionals to understand the range of services and provision available locally and provides information for families with children who have a special educational need or disability.

Use our Local Offer to search for services available for children and young people (aged 0 to 25 years) with special educational needs and disabilities.

SEND Support Service (SSS) supports children aged 0 to 19 years who have additional educational needs, developmental delay or disability. Visit the SEND support service webpage to find out ways to request involvement for a child.

The Sensory Impairment Service provides specialist teachers and support for children with:

  • a hearing impairment
  • a visual impairment
  • multi-sensory impairments

Visit the Sensory Impairment Service webpage to find out ways to request involvement for a child.

The Northamptonshire Educational Psychology Service is a team of educational psychologists all extensively trained in child and adolescent development, research, assessment, interventions and learning. They work with early years settings, schools, parents and carers and children and young people themselves to help to overcome barriers to successful learning and well-being.

Visit Educational Psychology Service for contact details to request involvement for a child.

The education, health and care (EHC) process is used to assess a child's special educational needs and decide whether they require an EHC plan to support improved outcomes. 

Visit education, health and care (EHC) assessment and plans to access support.

Northamptonshire’s Information, Advice and Support Service is a statutory service which is run at ‘arm’s length’ from the local authority and provides free, confidential, impartial advice, guidance and support to parents of children with special educational needs and children and young people with SEND.

IASS can:

  • support parents/carers of children who have or may have special educational needs
  • support children and young people who have or may have special educational needs
  • recognise the importance of parents, carers, young people and children's views
  • help the local authority and parent/carers and schools work together to meet the needs of children and young people
  • offer free impartial advice

You can visit the IASS webpage to access support.

The Referral Management Centre (RMC) offers a single point of access for professionals wishing to make referrals for children and young people with health needs. The RMC aims to help referrals to make sure children and young people are seen by the right person, with the right skills at the right time.

The Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Trust Speech and Language Therapy service support children and young people (0– 19) who have speech, language and communication difficulties. This includes difficulties with:

  • understanding language
  • using language
  • communication and interaction
  • dysfluency (stammering)
  • speech sounds
  • social skills

They also help children and young people who have eating and drinking difficulties. Some children they support may have identified needs such as cleft palate, hearing impairment and special educational needs and disability (SEND).

The Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Trust Speech and Language Therapy service have produced a referral Toolkit. This toolkit offers you guidance and information for universal and targeted support for children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and information regarding when to refer a child to the Speech and Language Therapy Services for specialist support. Up-to-date information, including the 'Toolkit' can be found at NHS Speech and Language Therapy.

The government has identified improving early communication, language and literacy development is a key priority. Better Health - Start for Life learning to talk section has been designed to encourage parents and carers to chat, play and read more with their children. It aims to engage parent’s in activities that support their child’s early learning and help set them up for school and beyond. You will find activity ideas and links to further supporting websites.

Northamptonshire Inclusion Mentoring Partnership (NIMP) support you in your work with special educational needs and disabled children in Northamptonshire by providing training, a knowledge hub and mentoring support.

National Association for Special Educational Needs (nasen) is a charitable membership organisation that offers a range of training opportunities and resources specifically for leaders and practitioners, working in the Early Years. You can join for free to access supportive tools which will help you in your work meeting the needs of all children.

The council for disabled children are the umbrella body for the disabled children's sector bringing together professionals, practitioners and policy-makers. They have lots of useful information, and resources.

SENIF has been developed for children with low level and emerging need who are struggling to meet their universal childhood development milestones at certain ages, as you would expect. View the criteria and how to apply for SENIF funding.

SENIF Plus has been developed to support children in early years settings with severe and complex needs and is funded through the High Needs Block Funding allocation. Email our SENIF plus team at [email protected] for further guidance and how to apply.

Inclusive practice and equalities

Communities are diverse and it is crucial that you value and respect all children and their families. This must be central to good early years practice to provide opportunity for all. Inclusive practice ensures that all children are welcomed and have a sense of belonging and enabled to fully participate in their learning.

The Equality Act provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. Everything that you do needs to be non-discriminatory and this may require regular reviews of practices, policies and procedures to ensure they do not discriminate against people with a ‘protected characteristic’.

The following characteristics are protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

In order to offer equality of opportunity we need to recognise that we are all individual and different. Celebrating our differences and culture provides us with the opportunity to recognise the rich experiences that can enhance all our lives. The early years is where we can make a lasting difference to children’s views of the world, the people and the communities within it and you must demonstrate how you offer an inclusive service.

Guidance to support equality, diversity and inclusion

You should strive to promote and create an environment where all children can flourish and feel safe without prejudice or discrimination.

You should:

  • challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes
  • be a good role model
  • set clear expectation for behaviours
  • support children to manage their emotions and talk about their feelings
  • support children to develop a positive sense of self
  • treat all children equally and fairly
  • reflect the diverse community within your curriculum and appropriate use of multi-cultural resources
  • promote mutual respect and acceptance of faith, cultures and races
  • use additional Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) funding to improve opportunities for eligible 3 and 4 year olds

The following learning resources have been designed for you to support equality, diversity and inclusion.

Children need to explore their social world just as they do their physical world. Children will naturally make mistakes just like in any other new skill they are learning. Young children’s brains are under developed and they do not function in the same way as a fully developed adult brain. We all express our emotions through our behaviour and using your observations can help you to understand what the child is trying to communicate. When young children have secure relationships with you they feel confident to explore the world around them and build relationships with others. When you do not tune in to children’s needs and take time to understand them, children can become stressed and display challenging behaviour.

Use our Understanding children’s behaviour quick guide to help you to reflect upon behaviour strategies in your setting:

Children are not always able to manage big emotions, which can result in a meltdown or them ‘flipping their lid’. This often leads to negative consequences as adults try to manage the behaviour. Often, these behaviour strategies do not teach the child ways to cope and the situation escalates. Lack of self-regulation skills are often a contributing factor to unwanted behaviour and therefore, it can be useful to look at what might be going on and what you can do to help.

Self-regulation is about developing the skills needed to manage emotions, thoughts and behaviour. From a young age, babies have the ability to learn how to regulate their emotions from adults tuning in to help soothe them, for example, when they are feeling tired or hungry. By helping to co-regulate, babies learn that emotions can be calmed and their distress eased. Children need your support to understand what they are feeling and taught ways to help them manage their emotions themselves.

Self-regulation is a process that develops through supportive and nurturing relationships and environments. It is your role to teach, suggest and model strategies to support children to use self-regulation skills. The learning taking place includes focussing attention, problem solving, being aware of others, goal setting, concentrating and decision making. 

There is a useful webinar you can watch on Famly where experts Dr Mine Conkbayir and Ursula Krystek-Walton discuss the importance of self-regulation for child development, and the strategies you can bring into your setting to put the child’s emotional wellbeing first.

There is a useful self-regulation Keep your cool toolbox you can dip into for practical strategies to promote self-regulation in your work with young children.

Self-regulation plays an essential role in mental health. The term ‘mental health’ for babies and young children describes their wellbeing in terms of their social and emotional development. Visit the self-regulation and co-regulation government webpage for further guidance on how to support babies and young children with their mental health.

For more information and some top tips have a look at our quick read Ofsted self-regulation article.

There are increasing numbers of children entering early years settings for whom English is not their first language.

Bilingualism is an asset, and you must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, working in partnership with parents to support their language development at home.

You must also ensure that children have sufficient opportunities to learn and reach a good standard in English language during the EYFS, ensuring children are ready to benefit from the opportunities available to them when they begin year 1 at school.

A child’s first language continues to help them to develop a sense of belonging, where they can grow in confidence and begin to learn an additional language. You must ensure that children learning English as an additional language have opportunities to express themselves in their home language some of the time.

When assessing communication, language and literacy skills, you must assess children’s skills in English. If a child does not have a strong grasp of English language, you must explore the child’s skills in the home language with parents or carers, to establish whether there is cause for concern about language delay. Any difficulties related solely to learning English as an additional language should not initially be regarded as a special educational need.

Prompts to use when collecting information from parents about their child’s language development before starting the setting:

  • what languages does your child hear at home and how often?
  • what languages does your child speak?
  • does your child respond when you call their name?
  • tell me about your child’s language development in their home language?
  • how does your child communicate with you?
  • is your child using non-verbal communication or verbal communication?
  • does your child interact with you?
  • have they reached their milestones so far?
  • what are your child’s listening skills like?
  • can your child follow simple instructions?

Reflection points:

  • greet children regularly and individually using their home language and English
  • reassure parents that speaking in their home language while at home will support their child’s learning
  • utilise the linguistic diversity of staff, children, peers, parents and the local community to support with translation in meetings and of key documents (newsletters, policies)
  • ensure all staff are knowledgeable in language acquisition in particular the stages children learn additional languages
  • introduce visual aids and sign language to support communication
  • acknowledge that some children may go through a silent period when they first enter an unfamiliar setting - this can last for up to 6 months or longer and it is important that children should not feel pressurised to speak until they feel confident enough to do so
  • provide opportunities for children to experiment with their voices and practise the sounds and rhythms of English - provide dual language books, props and song/rhyme cards for sharing
  • all attempts at speech should be encouraged and praised - respond to children’s talk and extend their language and repeat back and model correct form
  • allow extra time for responses
  • value and celebrate children’s home languages through displays and resources
  • check children’s and family names are spelt and pronounced correctly
  • set up photograph albums and key word books for children to share at home and in the setting
  • display visual schedules to depict daily routines for example, snack time, hand washing
  • display key words in the child’s home languages around your environment
  • celebrate significant events in children’s lives
  • use technology to enhance children’s understanding for example, sound buttons or talking photograph albums for parents to record key phrases in their home language
  • during key group times the sitting position is very important to ensure children can access your facial expressions and those within the group
  • provide opportunities for children to consolidate language - perhaps focus on half a dozen songs over a period of time before gradually introducing new ones
  • print off copies of familiar songs in English and home languages to promote continuity and singing at home

Visit the governments English as an additional language (EAL) webpage to help improve your practice.

We have developed a guide and development summary to help you assess and monitor the child’s progress in the English language. It aids discussions with parents or carers, so that early interventions can be put in place if needed. Email [email protected] for a copy.

The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is additional funding available from the government to improve outcomes for children. Children who are currently claiming the Free Entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds in Northamptonshire who meet certain eligibility criteria could be eligible for the EYPP. The funding provides extra money at a hugely important point in children's lives to those who need it most. The EYPP is intended to make a difference by having extra targeted strategies for the progress these children make. It can be used to improve the facilities, equipment and learning experiences to benefit the growth and development of individual children in receipt of the funding. You should work alongside parents/carers and consider how they could be involved in supporting children’s learning at home. If a child is developing typically, you can consider activities to enrich their experiences.

Ideas for using the funding to meet individual children’s needs:

  • additional practitioner employed to offer 1-1 support to identified children
  • training for practitioners
  • practitioner time covered to support essential meetings
  • bilingual practitioner employed to work with EAL families
  • investment in equipment to support children with EAL eg talking pen, dual language books, talking postcards
  • investment in technology to improve children’s opportunity to access this type of resource
  • multicultural equipment extended relevant to children on role
  • improving outdoor provision to support gross motor physical skills or greater access to natural play spaces
  • sensory resources developed
  • trips/family trips to engage parents in children’s learning
  • additional sessions funded for identified children
  • language development intervention programmes introduced to promote speaking and listening including interactive story-book reading
  • welfare packages offered to promote health and hygiene
  • play packs developed to promote home learning opportunities

Whatever you decide to use the additional funding for to support the child’s needs, you must be fully prepared to discuss the impact it has had on the child’s learning and development.

Last updated 04 April 2024