The SEN toolbox:
Getting Your SEN Provision Right
What's the best way to provide for your SEN children?

When you already have a hundred and one things to think about, making sure you’ve got the right support for your SEN provision can be a daunting thought!

Worry no longer! We’re going to cover exactly what is expected of early years settings when it comes to your SEN provision, along with all the things you need to put in place to support your SEN children.

The Policy behind your SEN provision

The Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND Code of Practice 2014, were put in place to make sure that children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) get greater support, choice and opportunities.

The SEND Code of Practice runs through the responsibilities that English nurseries and early years settings have in order to support children with SEN(D). Any childcare provider that offers free places to two, three or four-year-olds, must make sure they meet the requirements of the SEND Code of Practice.

You should focus on putting inclusive practice at the very heart of your nursery – many children with SEN are successfully included in mainstream settings across the UK.

As a nursery or early years providers, you are responsible for:

  • Promoting equal opportunities for children with SEN.
  • Focusing on inclusive practice.
  • Ensuring there are no barriers to for these children to learn and make adjustments to prevent any disadvantage.
Special Educational Needs (SEN)

As I am sure you will be well aware, the term ‘SEN’ is an incredibly broad spectrum. Children may have physical disabilities, hearing difficulties, learning disabilities, visual disabilities, social and/or emotional difficulties, special diets.

However, special educational needs are generally grouped into 4 broad areas:

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health
  • Sensory and/or physical needs

Of course, how you meet the needs of children with SEN will depend on the complexity and specifics of that individual’s needs. However, these practices can be broken down into:

  • Systematic – the type of support that your nursery routinely practices, tailored towards children with SEN.
  • Specialised – the type of support that is specifically designed to cater for children with higher needs. This could include developing individual learning plans and strategies.
Your SEN provision toolbox – what do you need?

Now that we know the background, it’s time to dig into the toolbox and find out the things you need in order to provide for children with SEN in the best way possible.

1. Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator (SENCO)/ Area SENCO

Your SENCO has a legal duty to follow the SEND code of practice but is important that this person is not expected to physically do all the hands-on work with every SEN child in your setting. The SENCO’s role is to oversee the day-to-day implementation of your nursery’s SEN provision and policy.

SENCO’s should be focusing on:

  • Overseeing the day-to-day implementation of your nursery’s SEN provision and policy.
  • Making sure that all members of staff are clear on what their responsibilities are.
  • Supporting teachers in the effective implementation of provision – these teachers may need advice from the SENCO.
  • Monitoring the parent-nursery relationship.
  • Liaising with services beyond your nursery to give your SEN children the best service possible.
  • Regularly reviewing the nursery environment – discussing improvements, modifications and amendments to the layout.
  • Ensuring the setting delivers a broad and balanced curriculum suitable for all children.
  • Keeping records of assessment, planning and provision for the review of children with SEN. More on this later.

The SENCO role is of great importance to your setting and, as with any of your staff members, hiring the right person for the role is critical. So, what to look for when hiring a SENCO?

The person should have:

  • A desire to promote equal opportunities for all children and understand that every child, with or without SEN, has the potential to develop and progress.
  • Patience, persistence and tenacity.
  • Organisational skills, particularly time management.
  • Great communication skills.
  • Thorough knowledge of general child development.

The person should know:

  • How to meet the needs of children with different types of SEN (usually a combination of experience with theory and practice).
  • The importance of observations for future assessment and planning.

The person should be:

  • Very familiar with the SEND Code of Practice.
  • Aware of services beyond the nursery that may need to be involved.

For your setting, you will not only have a SENCO but an Area SENCO too. They’ll work alongside one another to support your SEN children.

In most cases, your Area SENCO will have around 25 settings to manage and the team’s main role is to be ‘advisors’ for the families and carers. But equally, they will be able to help with any specialist training you may need or intervention to help with the child’s development.

They can really help you with the child’s transition from the nursery and are a very useful contact to have, so make sure your SENCO knows where to find yours!

2. Get others involved

A child with SEN will have their SENCO and a key worker and this key worker role is crucial as many SEN children struggle with attachment. As a result, it is much easier for them to get comfortable with one or two people rather than all the staff members in the setting.

Your SENCO and key worker should work in partnership with the parents or carers and understand the importance of building strong communication strategies with them. Parents or carers not only play an integral role in identifying their child’s SEN, but it’s also vital that they are kept totally up-to-date on their child’s journey at your nursery.

Their views should inform the action taken by you – they need to have trust in you as a setting to know what is best for their child. Therefore achieving a trustworthy, respected relationship is going to benefit everybody involved!

3. Assess > Plan > Do> Review

This cycle of action (promoted by The SEND Code of Practice 0-25) is a great way to stay on top of things with your SEN provision.

Assess – You can base this on:

  • Views of the child and their parents/carers.
  • Assessments and observations made by practitioners (focus on those made by the key worker and SENCO).
  • Current attainment and previous progress made.
  • Comparison of attainment to national averages.

Plan – This step must be child-centred:

  • Set outcomes for the child, with a timeframe.
  • Any necessary adjustments, whether that be outside services or a modification to the syllabus.
  • A review scheduled.

Do – All practitioners should be made aware of the plan for effective implementation.

Review – You should review the provision in your nursery by the date decided in the planning stage. This information should be shared with the child’s parents/carers.

Then the cycle starts again. This is how you make sure that improvements are being made each time.

4. Liaise with services outside the setting

It can be daunting to take on certain children with SEN, especially if their needs are very particular or extreme. But, as practitioners, you can access a large and ever-expanding network of providers. Outside services used by children, their families and your setting could include:

  • Speech and language therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Educational psychology
  • Portage work
  • Health services

Of course, it is expected that children with more severe or complex conditions will require higher levels of contact with a greater range of SEN support services.

5. Early responsiveness/intervention

An early response to a concern, leading to early identification and intervention of SEN are key to helping children to reach their potential. The Council for Disabled Children (CDC) make the point that early intervention produces immediate and long-term benefits for children with disabilities, their family and society.

Some ideas for ways to gather information for early intervention include:

  • Information from parents
  • The voice of the child
  • Observations within the setting
  • EYFS outcomes and tracking
  • The progress check at age two
  • Health and development review at age two
6. Your 2/3 year checks

As you’ll be very familiar with, The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) requires that parents/carers are given a short written summary of their child’s development when the child is aged between 24-36 months. The three prime areas being:

For children with SEN in particular this check should aim to:

  • Enable the SENCO and your practitioners to understand the children’s needs, with the idea that this will inform the planning of your SEN provision to meet them in your nursery.
  • Enable parents to understand their child’s needs and, with support from practitioners, enhance development at home.

While we might have covered a lot of ground, there’s always things you can add to your SEN provision toolbox!

But overall, preparation, open-mindedness and high quality staff are the main tool you need to be well on your way to having an accessible, inclusive, stimulating and supportive environment for all children.

7 ideas to improve your SEN provision

To finish off, here are seven ideas on how you can optimise the service you offer to your SEN children and their families.

1. Play sessions

For children that are due to start at the nursery, play sessions for families are a great idea. This way, you get to meet the child and their family and gain a real insight into the child’s likes, dislikes, interests, requirements. You will be able to learn about that child much quicker this way and have more time to plan and organise for their arrival.

2. Opening evenings

For SEN children you already have in your setting, you could organise regular open evenings where staff can feedback to the children’s families about the progress they have made. Both your staff and the parents will benefit hugely from this ongoing dialogue.

3. Family workshops

Family workshops in the nursery are valuable for a whole host of reasons. Children, particularly with SEN, can find nursery stressful and that makes having the comfort of their family and the staff that work with them in one place a really important experience. Perhaps having their family there will give them the confidence to try something new.

4. Questionnaires to parents

The best people to learn from are those that have experienced the situation first hand. How about sending an annual questionnaire to the parents/carers of your SEN children to hear their feedback on how they think your setting handles their child? Reflecting on your setting is absolutely key to improving.

5. Termly reports

For both informative and legal reasons, termly reports are of great importance. They are a great way to keep track of progress and keep the parents involved and up-to-date. What’s more, when the time comes for the child to transition onwards from the nursery, these reports can be compiled and passed on, making the transition that bit easier.

6. Staff training

By keeping your staff educated on how to deal with SEN children, your setting will only thrive. Ofsted believe that the term teaching should be about all the different ways in which adults help young children to learn.

To achieve high-quality teaching, staff must adapt to the different ways in which children learn. As we have seen, the SEN code of practice emphasises the importance of planning for children with SEN – if your staff are trained to do this efficiently, your setting will only be better off.

7. Staff team building

The relationship between staff can’t be overlooked when it comes to children with SEN. Everybody wants a friendly work environment and sometimes a staff member may face a challenging situation where they need to rely on someone else. That’s why respectful and strong relationships are very valuable. Perhaps your staff could get involved in a team-building exercise once a month. Exercises could work on enhancing staff’s motivation, their team spirit, their communication or just having a bit of fun.

The Complete (and free) SEN Guide

Interested in more? Download the full guide to preparing an inclusive environment for every SEN child.