Cambridge Early Years Teaching School was commissioned in 2018 by Cambridge Local Authority, Early Years and Childcare Service to work on a SEND (Special Educational Needs) project. The purpose of the work was to identify issues and challenges for practitioners in pre-school settings around meeting the needs of children with SEND (Special Educational Needs).
To identify settings that meet the needs of children with SEND, settings that are confident about routes to secure appropriate funding for SEND children and to learn how these settings continue to develop inclusive practice.
To identify Early Years settings that were not receiving additional funding for SEND children, which might mean that they were settings that did not have any SEND children. In these cases staff were not able to develop their experience and practice of managing the needs of children with SEND and not well placed to be able to offer places and to and meet the needs of children with SEND.
Issues and Challenges facing early years settings would be identified and fed back to the Local Authority – who would use the information to look into ways of continuing to develop the early Years SEND offer, streamlining SEND processes and looking at how SEND additional funding had been used to further develop inclusive practice. By producing practice guidance and case studies of exemplary practice from the visiting programme it was felt that more settings may develop their practice and feel able to confidently offer places to children with SEND.
Initially all streams of funding available to early years settings were considered in the project, DAF (Disability allowance),EYPP (Early Years Pupil Premium) deprivation funding as well as SENIF (Special Educational Needs Inclusion) funding. Which is the main route for additional funding when children do not have an EHCP. But as the project developed the focus centered around settings that were in receipt of SENIF funding, as this meant that they had and were meeting the needs of children with SEND. More direct and useful information could be gathered in this way.
The final part of the project was to track previously SENIF funded children into school and to do this a series of visits were made to look at how children, funded in their pre-school were coping when they started Primary school. At this point some children had been formally assessed and had an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) in place, which provided continuity of funding for them as they transitioned to school. Other SENIF funded children transferred to school with no additional funding.
In March 2020 the Local Authority extended the scope of the 2 year SEND project by a further year and work is just beginning on this final strand of the project working in partnership with the Early Years and Child Care Service.
The project involved
CEYTSA put together a working group of practitioner’s (SLE’s) to work on the project. The group was made up of SENCO’s, Teachers and HLTA’s all colleagues who were very experienced in working with SEND and in settings that had developed outstanding Inclusive practice. They made up the team of staff that made visits to identified settings (with and without children with SEND). Information discussed and aspects of practice were identified. All the information was collated and fed back into the SEND project steering group. There were many examples of good practice where setting staff had gone out of their way to meet needs – with whatever it took. The compassion and support that staff gave parents and the lengths they went to secure funding, often not in place until the child had left the setting were remarkable.
Settings were very clear about the issues they faced, how time consuming some of the SEND processes were, the amount of evidence needed to secure additional funding etc. They were also acutely aware of the financial position of the Education Authority and the impact that this had on the reduction in staff working in early years which meant that it was more difficult to get advice and help when it was needed.
They gave credit in particular to the specialist teachers’ as they found that they were taking on more of the role that the Area SENCO’s had previously held. Some settings worked through paperwork processes that they had had no previous experience of, some had had difficult times but were pleased when they had secured the right funding or made the right decision about how best to meet need. Practitioners were taking on more responsibility and were the ones that often had to explain quite complicated SEND processes to parents or in fact pass on the outcome of decisions about their child with SEND. Managers and leaders have developed their skills and the skills of the staff in their setting to meet the needs of children with SEND. The SENIF funding process was simplified in September 2019, If a child has had an Early Help Assessment then there is just one step to securing SENIF funding and this means that money will get into preschool settings to support children with SEND in a much noire timely and relevant to needs way.
There are still aspects of the initial 2 year project that are work in progress and now, as the project has been extended the working team will continue to develop the action plan and work on the project during 2020-21.
CEYTSA SEND project team.