Concern children with 'low level' SEND not being identified

Annette Rawstrone
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Early years SENCOs  are worried that children presenting with ‘low levels’ of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being ‘missed’ as a result of time and resource restrictions, a report by nasen has found.

Early years settings will be under increased pressure to identify children experiencing developmental gaps following lockdown
Early years settings will be under increased pressure to identify children experiencing developmental gaps following lockdown

One in 10 respondents said that they were allocated no time to dedicate to their role and almost a quarter (22 per cent) were only given time on an adhoc basis. This resulted in them focusing their time on children with more complex needs.

Almost three in 10 (29 per cent) of SENCOs in state maintained settings admitted to finding it difficult to meet the Government’s SEND Code of Practice requirements, stating a lack of time and funding as contributing factors.              

The issue of ‘professional frustration’ was also shared by a number of SENCOs who stated that while they had an in-depth knowledge of a child and their family, their views were not often given sufficient ‘weight’ in comparison to the view of a multi-agency professional. They shared fears that this could lead to missed opportunities for sharing information.

The report, Identifying special education needs in the Early Years: perspectives from special educational needs coordinators, found that 80 per cent of SENCOs were confident in their ability to identify SEN but staff training was reported to often be lacking among teams. Some SENCOs shared concern that less experienced members of staff had received no SEND training at all, despite the experience of staff being central to early identification.

It also identified barriers outside of settings with SENCOs highlighting that the time it can take to access multi-agency support was impacting their ability to support a child. The findings showed significant variation in experiences across different localities with some SENCOs sharing that the processes for accessing advice and support had become increasingly ‘lengthy and convoluted’.

Recommendations outlined in the report include:

  • Developing guidance to help determine the time allocated to the early years SENCO role in different settings
  • Sharing of good practice developed by early years SENCOs, particularly in relation to developing family relationships, should be facilitated across the sector and later phases
  • Ensuring more specific training is available in relation to speech, language and communication needs. Speech and language was cited by participants as the greatest area of need in their settings
  • Undertaking further work to develop a greater understanding of the early years SENCO role across education, health and care sectors.

Despite an ‘overwhelming desire’ to support every child, Professor Adam Boddison, CEO at nasen, believes early years settings are facing significant challenges in identifying SEND needs early and giving the appropriate support.

‘This issue is becoming more urgent and pressing in light of COVID-19 and the additional challenges facing our SEND workforce,’ he said. ‘As we start to return to a new “normal”, the demands on early years professionals to support more children with social, emotional and mental health and social interaction needs will only increase, which is why we need to offer them as much support as we can.

‘Settings will be under increased pressure to support and identify children experiencing developmental gaps following this period of lockdown, as well as provide the necessary support for those with SEND or additional learning needs. It is critical that we ensure this focus also supports children with less complex needs to make sure they don’t slip through the net.’             

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