Special needs at nursery and pre-school

Having a child with special needs means you're likely to get involved with the education system early on - here's what nurseries and pre-schools have a responsibility to provide

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Every nursery and pre-school must allow children with special educational needs (SEN) to attend. They should have an SEN Policy and an Inclusion Statement, which are documents that set out their responsibilities and procedures for children with SEN.

These are good documents to ask for as a starting point.

Every nursery and pre-school must also have a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), also known as an Additional Needs Coordinator, who will be the big cheese as far as getting your child additional help is concerned. (If you use a childminder, the SENCO role may be shared between various childminders in a local network.) 

The SENCO should take the lead in managing your child's educational needs and, ideally, should liaise between you and the nursery staff when needed.

For some children, their nursery years are when SEN issues start to emerge. If this is the case for your child, your first point of call should be the SENCO within your nursery. Arrange to meet them and discuss your child's needs and how they can be met. 

Early Years 

All early years providers must have arrangements in place to identify and support children with SEN or disabilities. These requirements are set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage, which is the statutory framework for children aged 0-5 years.

Assess, Plan, Do, Review

These are the four stages of action which a school must follow when dealing with a child who may have SEN requirements. When a child is between the ages of two and three, early years providers are legally required to review the child's developmental progress and provide parents with a written report, summarising the child's areas of strength and weakness. If there are significant concerns about the child's progress, including but not limited to possible SEN, care providers should develop a targeted plan to support the child, which may include the area SENCO.

The early years practitioner is still responsible for working with the child on a daily basis, supported by the SENCO, and for implementing a plan, if one has been agreed upon, to support the child. The SENCO should help to assess the child's response to the plan, and to advise on any adjustments that need to be made.

The plan should be reviewed in line with a date agreed upon by the early years practitioner with the child's parents. The impact and quality of support should be evaluated, with input from the child him-or herself. Parents should have clear information about the effectiveness of the support provided, and should be involved in planning next steps or any changes to the plan.

Specialist involvement

If your child is still not progressing a few months after making and following a support plan, the nursery should consider seeking outside advice, from, for instance, a speech and language therapist, an educational psychologist, or the health service. This should always be done in consultation with you and your child.

An Education, Health and Care needs assessment

If, after implementing the above plans and support strategies, your nursery considers that your child still needs additional help meeting their progress goals, or has additional needs, you may need to start thinking about getting an EHC assessment.

The EHC is a legal document that sets out your child's special educational needs as assessed by the local authority (which used to be known as the LEA), and sets out the provision which the local authority - with input from you and your child - feels is needed for your child. The aim is to ensure your child gets the right kind of help to enable him or her to progress within an educational environment.

You can apply for an EHC for your child from ages 0 to 25. Children over 16 can also request their own EHC needs assessment if they understand the process sufficiently themselves.

Special needs nurseries

Some areas may have special needs nurseries, which will be set up with the equipment and staff trained to meet the needs of children with special needs. For example, they may run language groups, or groups for children with particular disabilities, and may use a lot of Makaton and sign language.

Whether your child needs a mainstream or a special needs nursery will depend on many factors – not least the availability of special needs nursery places and local authority funding.

What Mumsnetters say about SEN and pre-school

  • "My son has moderate ASD. At nursery he has tasks with an adult (eg roll a ball back and forth, sharing, turn-taking games) and then progresses to doing these with a child. He has some structured one-to-one time (eg songs, matching cards, speech and language therapy games). He also spends some time each session doing one-to-one work with an adult, mostly working on speech and turn taking. Everything should be geared to communication, interaction and teaching play skills."
  • "The whole point of the Inclusion worker role being developed is to get to work with the children much sooner - the key being early intervention."
  • "The system is so complex and obstructive that you need maximum lead-time to understand the situation with its local oddities and sort out something acceptable by the time your child is ready to start school."

Liked this? Then you'll probably like these:

SEN Code of Practice


Statementing process and timeline

SEN at school 

Last updated: over 1 year ago