The National Day Nurseries Association analysis of updated statistics has found that between January 2017 and January 2018 there was a 30 per cent rise in under-fives with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or a statement attending a private or voluntary nursery.
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The number of under-fives identified with SEN has also risen since the system was reformed and EHC plans were brought in to replace statements in 2014/15. (All children with statements should have transferred to an EHC plan by spring 2018.)
The number of under-fives with an EHCP or statement has increased by 11 per cent (from 11,250 in 2015 to 12,516 in 2018) but the number in PVI nurseries has increased by 54 per cent (956 to 1,476).
NDNA is calling for the Government to review its SEN spending plans in light of these figures, saying that greater investment is needed so that nurseries can properly cater for the needs of all children who attend.
In January 2018 there were 12,516 children under five with an EHC plan or statement. Of these 1,476 (12 per cent) were in PVI nurseries, up from 1,136 children in January 2017 (a 30 per cent rise).
Nursery managers are telling NDNA that local authorities do not have sufficient resources to support these children and there can be a lengthy wait following identification until the right expertise is put in place.
Members have told NDNA that the delay between identifying a child with SEN and receiving a statement or plan is often longer than the government target of 20 weeks.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said, ‘These latest figures show that more and more children with SEND are being identified and supported in PVI nurseries. This backs up the experience of our members as families access funded hours.
‘Identifying issues with development at the earliest opportunity can make a massive difference to a child with additional needs. Ensuring that the appropriate support is in place can help with their education as well as social and physical development.
‘While it is good news that more children are being identified, the challenge then lies in securing the resources to ensure their needs are fully met.
‘We know that local authorities are struggling to pay these costs for all those who need it. The Government’s own evaluation of the 30 hours childcare policy reported that early years teams were not able to achieve this for children receiving 15 hours of childcare, let alone 30.
‘This lack of adequate resources means that nurseries are being left in a vulnerable position when they have identified children in their care needing support, but are not receiving the funding needed to fully cater for a child’s needs. This must be urgently addressed to make sure funded places can be offered to the children and families who need them the most. ‘This could create a situation where children with SEN cannot be offered places because either the support is not available or the additional cost is too high for families to afford.’
Helen Gration, NDNA trustee and managing director of Yorkshire Montessori Nurseries said she does not receive sufficient money to fully support children with SEND for all their hours in nursery, even when these have been set out in an EHC Plan.
‘With the Government’s expansion to 30 hours we have more children with additional needs and they are attending for more hours per week than previously,’ she said. ‘This is unsurprising but it seems to have been completely unforeseen by ministers as they came up with their vote-winning plans.
‘Each local authority we come across is working differently on this issue, creating a postcode lottery for children. Many councils are not offering the full support a child needs for all the hours they are at nursery. This approach is causing significant problems for providers and letting down our children.’
The Department for Education said that local authorities and providers must ensure that they meet their duties under the Equality Act 2010 and take full account of the SEND Code of Practice when securing and providing free places.
The Disability Access Fund is worth £615 per eligible child per year, and there is also a requirement that local authorities establish a SEN Inclusion Fund for children's childcare entitlements.
A DfE spokesperson said, 'This Government is committed to ensuring that children with special educational needs and disabilities get the best start in life and parents of children with SEND are supported with their childcare. That is why we are providing local authorities with £6.3 billion in 2019-20 to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.'