DfE sets out remit for early years SENCos

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Guidance to develop a new early years qualification for Level 3 practitioners working with children with special educational needs and disabilities has been published by the Department for Education.

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A job description and specification for Early Years SENCos (special educational needs co-ordinators) working in the private and voluntary sector have been drawn up by early years experts, including nasen and Action for Children, with support from the Department for Education. The documents are intended to be used by awarding organisations to develop a new qualification.

The new Early Years SENCo (special educational needs coordinator) role is designed for a Level 3 practitioner working in a PVI setting, and is also relevant to childminders.

The details were announced, alongside new DfE contracts to improve training for school staff and provide advice for families, which have been awarded to the Council for Disabled Children, and nasen, among others.

While it is not mandatory, the DfE said it was an important role to ensure the best possible educational outcomes are achieved for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

All early years providers are required to have arrangements in place to identify and support children with SEND and to promote equality of opportunity for children in their care.

PVI providers are expected to identify a SENCo, while maintained nursery schools must identify a SENCo with qualified teacher status.

The DfE said the aim was to boost the profile of this important early years role to make sure children with additional learning needs get the right support from the earliest opportunity.

Minister for children and families Nadhim Zahawi said, ‘We are also putting in place new measures to improve the SEND training available to school staff, including tools to develop the role of early years SEND coordinators – building on a commitment set out in our Early Years Workforce Strategy.’

The job description sets out the role of the early years SENCo and is intended as guidance for providers and practitioners to help clarify the role of the Early Years SENCo in non-maintained early years settings. It should be read alongside the Special educational needs and disability code of practice.

All early years providers in the maintained and PVI sectors that are funded by local authorities must have regard to the SEND code of practice. This provides statutory guidance on duties, policies, and procedures relating to the Children and Families Act 2014, applying to England, for children and young people with SEND.

The Early Years SENCo role involves:

  • ensuring all practitioners in the setting understand their responsibilities to children with SEN and the setting’s approach to identifying and meeting SEN
  • advising and supporting colleagues
  • ensuring parents are closely involved throughout and that their insights inform action taken by the setting, and
  • liaising with professionals or agencies beyond the setting

Accredited qualification

Early years consultant Janice Darkes-Sutcliffe, said she was delighted that at long last, that Early Years SENCos working in the PVI sector would have access to an accredited qualification.

‘The role of SENCo is a complex one and a time when the capacity of local authority teams has been reduced, with less support and training for settings, the more necessary it becomes for SENCos themselves to put the SEND Code into practice,’ she said.

‘They need to have the skills and understandings needed to implement early intervention strategies and become advocates for the children and families they work with. This new qualification will hopefully go some way to equip with the knowledge (and confidence) to carry out their role.

‘For too long there has been a “gap” in requirements and expectations for SENCos working in schools, compared with those in the PVI sector, when it is the same SEND Code of Practice and the same EYFS curriculum that we are working to.

‘Completing this qualification provides the opportunity for the commitment of Early Years SENCos to be recognised and because it is targeted at Level 3, it makes the qualification attainable and relevant. Always remembering that SEND support for young children works best when a holistic approach is taken, which is embedded within high quality inclusive EYFS provision and practice.’

Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, that the publication of the SENCo qualification specification and job description marked 'an important - though long overdue - recognition of the essential work that those working with young children with additional needs play in the sector. We were also particularly pleased to see that the input and reach of voluntary sector organisations has been recognised through these initiatives.

‘We know that outlining the work of a SENCo is essential if that person is to succeed in their role, and the proposed job description reflects the approach that we at the Alliance have encouraged our members to take over the last 20 years.

‘We equally welcome the publication of the new qualification specification, which delivers on a commitment made in the government's Workforce Strategy, as this will support those in SENCo roles to demonstrate their understanding and application of the statutory and regulatory requirements of the sector.’

  • Action for Children has produced EY SENCo case studies, showing examples of good practice in early years settings. These can be found at here.
  • Nursery World is holding a one-day conference on 6 July on SEND in the early years. For more information and to book your place by 31 May to take advantage of early bird rates click here
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