Equality for children with SEND is lacking

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For young children with special educational needs and disabilities, there is a distinct Victorian feel to early years policy, says Michael Pettavel, in his first regular column

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Michael Pettavel,

The earlier you take action, the greater the impact. It is the nature of things; you nurture the beginning and the better the result. We use it in gardening, in cookery, even in business planning. Why then do we not use it in early years policy?

Those who decide early years policy get their priorities very mixed: universal free school meals for infant schools, but not for nurseries, those pitiful Pupil Premium payments early years settings receive in stark contrast to significantly more for primary schools. The poverty of equality for early years leaves me astounded, but in no area is it worse than in equality for very young children with special educational needs and disabilities. In my darker moments it feels distinctly Victorian.

Every setting I have worked for and with struggles to get the input required for low to mid-level needs – speech and language. We know children who struggle to use language effectively can be excluded from so much and it can impact so deeply on other areas. This is magnified for children with significant needs; early intervention can be a long time coming.

The Government will throw its hands up – there will be a payment to settings linked to Disability Living Allowance – £615 per year, recently the cost of a specialist chair recommended by the physiotherapist. So yes, the chair helps, but what children need is support and what settings need is capacity to become experts in their children and capacity that allows targeted support as the evidence for Education Health Care Plans is collected, not afterwards.

Babies and toddlers can also need support. I don’t accept that higher ratios for these children provides this. A child with a significant need has a right to support beyond statutory ratios, yet why is it exceptionally difficult to get?

With the 30 hours there has been very little information on SEND beyond the DLA linked payment. The word on the street is that children will only be eligible for 15 hours of linked support. If so, I will encourage parents to make a legal challenge to receive equality for their child.

In the words of Joseph Malins (1895): ‘Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff/Than an ambulance down in the valley.’

Michael Pettavel is head teacher, Brougham Street Childcare and Nursery School, Skipton

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