SEN and disability in the early years

The Children and Families Act 2014 defines SEN as:

  • a child has a special educational need if they have a learning difficulty or disability that calls for special educational provision
  • a learning difficulty is a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age
  • a disability is a disability that prevents or hinders a child from taking advantage of the facilities generally available
  • special educational provision is provision that is additional to or different from that which is normally available in mainstream settings. For a child under the age of 2, special educational provision means provision of any kind
  • a child under school age has SEN if he or she is likely to have SEN when they reach school age, or would do so if special educational provision were not made for them

The Role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo)

EYFS  Providers must have arrangements in place to support children with  SEN or disabilities. Maintained schools, maintained nursery schools and all providers who are funded by the local authority to deliver early education places must have regard to the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. Maintained schools and maintained nursery schools must identify a member of staff to act as Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), and other providers (in group provision) are expected to identify a SENCo . Childminders are encouraged to identify a person to act as a  SENCo and childminders who are registered with a childminder agency, or who are part of a network, may wish to share the role between them.

The  SENCo is required to:

  • Ensure all practitioners in the setting understand their responsibility to children with SEND .
  • Ensure that children with  SEND are identified and their needs are met.
  • Advise and support colleagues in the setting.
  • Make contact with other professionals and outside agencies working with children, such as Health Visitors and Speech and Language Therapists

SEND  is the responsibility of everyone in the setting.

Advice, support and guidance for SENCos in private, voluntary and independent settings PVIs)

The Local Authority  supports settings to provide high quality inclusive practice and provision.this includes supporting all settings to deliver Quality First Teaching.

Quality First Teaching

Quality First Teaching is the foundation for all children attending a setting. It covers in the moment and planned interactions between adults and children and how the indoor, outdoor and emotional environment enable these to happen. Practitioners should consider:

  • showing, explaining, demonstrating resources
  • exploring ideas; encouraging, questioning, recalling in the moment
  • commenting on what children are doing
  • offering challenges
  • enhancing resources in response to children’s interests
  • the structure and routine of the day

Statutory document

Guidance documents


The Early Years SEN helpline

Requests for Consultation

When a child has been identified as causing concern in one or more areas of learning, the setting  SENCo and key person need to share this with the child’s family and consider putting some targets in place using the First Concerns paperwork from the Cheshire East  SEND Toolkit. Once the targets have been reviewed and the setting has identified that additional support and advice may be required for the child, a request for consultation can be sent to the Early Years  SEND Helpline. Requests are reviewed and allocated on a weekly basis and a member of the Early Start Team will contact the setting to discuss the concerns. The Early Years Consultant for the locality may arrange a visit to observe the child following this discussion if further information is required. The request for consultation form should clarify the identified areas of concern and what is currently in place to support the child. This should reflect how practice, provision and resources have been adapted for individual children.

Setting  SENCos can also book onto a consultation to discuss the following areas with a relevant professional:

  • SEND  
  • Speech, language, and communication needs 
  • Personal, social, and emotional development 

Parents can also book on to a Talking Walk-in consultation with a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist.

Key Professionals

The role of the SEND Targeted Support Officers (TSO)

An Early Start  TSO for Special Educational Needs will be allocated for children who have complex needs. This allocation may take place following a phone discussion, an observation linked to a request for consultation or when a child has an identified need and is already known to another service (via a  SEND Notification discussed at the monthly locality Early Years Forum Meetings).

The  TSO will make contact with the setting by phone, a virtual platform or carry out a visit. The  TSO will review what is already in place for the child in their  SEND Support plan and give advice on targets. Some strategies and resources might be suggested and modelled with the child during a visit.

The role of the Speech and Language Therapists

Two Specialist Speech and Language Therapists work within the Early Start Team focusing on children’s speech and language development, up to and including  SEND Support level.

They also offer training to early years settings and the Early Start Team.

This includes:

  • Introduction to Attachment and Communication
  • Quality Interactions
  • Delivering Small Groups
  • Early Language Lead Networks
  • ICAN Early Talk Boost

Through partnership working, Cheshire East is producing a Speech, Language and Communication Pathway. 

Model SEND Policy

Early identification of children not reaching age related expectations

The setting should:

  • Provide appropriate targets at First Concerns to be reviewed after 4-6 weeks.
  • Plan targeted activities with an adult or in a small group
  • Make some changes to the routine and environment for the child
  • Share this with the child’s parents or carers

Identifying children at SEND Support and providing the appropriate practice and provision

That is: provision that is additional to and different from the mainstream curriculum

The setting should:

  • Arrange a Child Centred Planning Meeting (CCPM)
  • Implement a  SEND Support plan
  • Make changes to the routine and the environment, including additional resources
  • Plan and deliver targeted groups and interventions

Refer to:

Tracking children's progress

SEN support in the early years - a graduated approach

Assess, plan, do and review


Early Years Funding guidance and dates

The Early Years Forum

The Early Years Forum meets monthly in the 3 localities.  The role of the Forum is to:

  • Receive and discus  SEND notifications from health partners and allocate support accordingly.
  • Act as the  SEND Inclusion Funding Panel  

SEND Inclusion Funding 2021

SEND Inclusion Funding is available to support children in early years settings as required. This funding can be used for enhancing ratios, accessing training, and purchasing additional resources to enable the child to access their Free Early Educational Entitlement (FEEE).


Upskilling early years practitioners: Continuous Professional Development

A range of training is available via the Cheshire East CPD Programme for EY settings and practitioners.

This includes

  • Role of the SENCo
  • First Concerns
  • SEND paperwork
  • Signalong
  • Use of visuals
  • Autism Education Trust modules

Early Start Hubs

All children and parents can access The Cheshire East Parenting Journey in their Early Start Hub. This will include universal and targeted offers.

  • Buggy walks
  • Bookstart Corner
  • Play can make a difference
  • Sensory rooms and resources
  • Little stars

Contact details

The Early Years and Childcare Team operate a Helpline Inbox for all Cheshire East Childcare providers.

Email the Early Years and Childcare Team


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