Training Today: SEND Qualifications - Special service

From short courses to new qualifications at Levels 2 and 3, the sector now has more special needs training options than ever. By Meredith Jones Russell

Last year gave rise to a plethora of new special educational needs-focused qualifications for early years practitioners. A key one is the Level 3 award. This follows long-held recognition that quality in this area needs to improve.

Back in 2012, the Nutbrown Review recommended that the content of Level 3 qualifications be strengthened to include more on SEND. The report said, ‘Early years practitioners need to know what to look for, how to respond to it, and how to interact with parents and the range of other bodies, professionals and services that may play a part in supporting a child with special educational needs or who is disabled.’

In 2014 the Early Years Educator qualification was launched in response to Nutbrown, and includes ‘plan and provide activities to meet additional needs, working in partnership with parents and/or carers and other professionals’ as one of its criteria. However, development of children with SEND still lags behind that of their peers. In 2018, if child had identified special needs, the likelihood of them achieving expected levels of development in the EYFS Profile was just 23 per cent. For those children with an Education Health and Care plan, it drops to just 4 per cent.

This is compared with over three-quarters of children without SEND who achieve expected levels of development.


The development of the Level 3 Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators in Early Years Settings by 2018 was a Government commitment in the Early Years Workforce Strategy, which found that parents of children with SEND can experience difficulty in accessing a suitable childcare place. The new award (a 34-hour qualification, as opposed to a certificate or full diploma) is available through training provider CACHE.

Though it will not be mandatory for SENCos and there is limited Government funding available to pay for training, education development officer at the National Association for Special Educational Needs (nasen) Mandy Wilding says it will make a ‘huge difference’.

‘People are so happy to finally have it offered,’ she says. ‘SENCo training has traditionally been for maintained schools, so while private providers have to have SENCos, the training hasn’t been there for them.

‘That is not to say the level of skills in that area is low, but this will upskill practitioners so they can carry out identifications faster, more thoroughly and accurately, to help get targeted provision in place earlier for children who need it.

‘Children will be able to have paperwork in place before they start school, so records can be passed on, and get onto waiting lists for professionals like speech and language therapists earlier.’

The qualification aims to:

  • explore the roles and responsibilities of the SENCo in an early years setting
  • understand the strategies and techniques for supporting children and their families
  • increase knowledge of SEN codes of practice.

Take-up of the new award has unsurprisingly been relatively low, with CACHE only confirming ‘a number’ of people have completed it. It adds, ‘As the qualification is still so new, there are no current plans to extend the award, but it would be something we would consider if demand dictates.’

Practitioners can access free training under a DfE-funded ‘train the trainer’ programme in 23 local authority areas across England. So far, around 500 people have taken part in the 12 one-day sessions, running weekly or fortnightly.

The course originated with School Improvement Liverpool, which has had its own award since 2015. Jennifer Staunton, its quality improvement officer, says the partnership with nasen, which began in October 2018, was a ‘natural progression’.

Course content focuses on the role of the SENCo, legislation, joined-up working with parents and professionals, the graduated approach and the historical context of SEND. It also aims to provide networking opportunities for delegates, with speakers including local authority representatives, speech and language therapists and behavioural support specialists. Successful students get the CACHE Level 3 qualification.

Elaine Chaplin, daycare manager of Belsay Daycare at Belsay School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, says these opportunities to speak to other professionals face-to-face were invaluable.

‘Each week we would hear from someone on a different topic such as funding or family support. You don’t always get the opportunity to gather current knowledge from other professionals, so now we understand much more about who and where they are.

‘I learned more about what funding streams we could apply for, like the Disability Access Fund. Quite often, parents don’t advise us when their child might be eligible for it, so it was helpful to hear how we could identify them ourselves.’

While CACHE recommends the course duration as 34 hours, Nasen offers a much longer 12-day course. This is due in part to the fact SENCos will also complete a Level 4 unit on co-ordinating special educational needs provision at Level 4 as part of nasen’s offer.

‘This gives practitioners the recognition they deserve and provides them with clear progression,’ says Ms Staunton.

Nasen’s Mandy Wilding adds, ‘The award we deliver covers more than is required. There are two days allocated for participants to visit each other’s settings and a local special school. Also, at the end of each session, there is time built in for personal study which allows participants to work on their assignments during course time with the trainer available for support. This is key as the participants are busy full-time PVI practitioners, often with young families of their own.’

Students must complete three written assignments and will be observed by assessors in settings during the course. The final half day is a celebration event for all graduates, where practitioners present on what they have learned.

Kerrie Barratt, owner and manager of Kerrie’s Cherubs in Blythe, Northumbria, who attended the course with her deputy manager, says the time commitment could pose a challenge.

‘It was really hard, especially with staff sickness, to have two of us losing a day a week to attend. Getting out of ratios could be challenging, and sometimes one of us would only be able to attend half a session.

‘But having two of us meant we could both bring back different things. My deputy is more interested in policy, so she has now developed our SENCo job description. I am more practical, so I learned from our visit to a specialist SEND setting how to create a new sensory area with a dark den, sensory lights and bounce balls.’


Every local authority which benefits from Nasen’s free training is obliged to deliver a second iteration of the course to another cohort of PVI settings within two years. Meanwhile, the University of Wolverhampton is conducting an independent evaluation of the course to measure impact and help inform decisions on future funding.

Ms Wilding says, ‘The Government wants to ensure sustainability for the award, so later cohorts will have to fund themselves. However, some local authorities might well have the capacity to offer it for free.’

She adds, ‘It all depends on their priorities. Some are absolutely passionate about it. In Bristol, for example, they are planning to have an accredited Level 3 SENCo in every PVI setting. They want to see this qualification in every setting, and ideally they will.’

Training at other levels

At Level 2, practitioners can currently access a unit on early years SEND, which the Government recommends as CPD or a top-up for practitioners who qualify by the end of August. On 1 September 2019, a new Level 2 early years practitioner qualification comes in based on new criteria – with SEND modules built in.

Free online resources are available from nasen at These include a range of webcasts covering 20 aspects of SEND, a nine-hour online course and a suite of materials for managers to use in face-to-face training.

As part of the Early Years SEND Partnership (, nasen is also joining with I CAN, The Communication Trust and Contact to provide training and resources to professionals and parents in the North West, East Midlands, North East, Yorkshire and Humber and West Midlands (see below). The programme runs for 18 months, and is grant-funded by the DfE.


Nasen’s one-day course, delivered by Achievement for All through the SEND partnership, is aimed at managers and SENCOs and is due to run from September 2019 to spring 2020. The course will focus on a new early years SEND review tool, which nasen is currently developing, which comprises a self-evaluation form. Areas covered include leadership, outcomes of teaching and learning, working with parents and carers, assessment and identification, efficient use of resources, and the quality of SEND provision more broadly. Settings must indicate whether each area is ‘secure’, ‘partly in place’, or remains an ‘area for development’, and provide evidence.

Nasen education development officer Alex Grady adds, ‘The reviews should be used to help and guide settings as part of a supportive process, rather than monitoring or inspecting.’


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