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Early Years Education, Childcare and SEND

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Childcare Settings and SEND

All childcare settings (nurseries, childminders and pre-schools) can meet the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), is the national guidance that outlines how childcare settings should support all children in their learning. The EYFS states that those that work with young children should be alert to emerging difficulties and respond early to concerns:

 “Providers must have arrangements in place to support children with SEN or disabilities… (nurseries and preschools) must identify a member of staff to act as Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo).”

Every childcare setting will have a staff member who is the lead for your child's learning needs, these are usually called key workers

Every childcare setting will also have a SEND specialist that is usually called a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo).

The staff in a childcare setting will work with the parents and carers, health visitors or other specialists to put together a written plan for each child with SEND.

Your childcare setting might call the written plan a Specific Support Plan, a Setting-Based Support Plan, or a Provision Map. However it is called, it should help assess your child's needs and plan their support.

If you feel your child should have a written plan then ask your child's key worker.

A written plan will list different ways of helping your child with their learning needs such as:

When a child has significant learning needs at a young age, early years professionals, such as health visitors and the ISEND Early Years' Service will help a parent or carer to explore what nurseries or early years provisions may be available in their area and then help the setting to meet their child’s needs.

Three children holding fruit and an adult sat in front of a wheelchair and trees.

Finding Childcare

A child with significant SEND should be able to attend any childcare setting with additional support.

To help you find childcare in your area, a list of childminders, nurseries and pre-schools is provided on the 'Family Information' section of the East Sussex Community Information Service (ESCIS) directory:

Childcare settings can also apply for the Early Years Inclusion Support Fund (EYISF) to help them support a child with significant learning needs. Find out more by reading this pages section on Early Years funding for SEND.

You can read more detailed information on how to find a suitable nursery and what to expect, by visiting the Coram website.

Coram are a charity that works with families.

Choosing childcare

Amaze are an independent charity who have produced a ‘Choosing Childcare’ fact sheet for East Sussex families, with links to appropriate East Sussex services:

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Early Years Milestones and SEND

Early years settings will regularly monitor the development of children in their care. 

However, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) also requires early years practitioners to review children’s progress and share a summary with parents at two points:

It is often during these progress checks that the degree to which a child might have SEND is identified and planning is then put in place. 

If you would like to understand more about how early years settings and other practitioners such as health visitors monitor children's development at these stages, we recommend reading the non-statutory guidance documents provided by the Department for Education to inform early years assessments:

Early Years and Assess, Plan, Do, Review

Whatever age your child is, when they have SEND, the childcare setting or school should set out a written plan for how they will be looked after and their learning supported. It may be called a Specific Support Plan, Provision Map or a Setting Based Support Plan. You can ask your child’s childcare setting what they call theirs.

All SEND support plans in East Sussex should follow the same process and steps, usually referred to as Assess, Plan, Do, Review.

It is also called the Graduated Approach, to indicate the process of increasing and improving the level of support as more is learnt about the child and what works for them.

These steps include:

  • Assess
The childcare setting will be assessing how your child is learning by comparing their progress to key milestones listed in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This is the national guidance that maps out the learning standards for all children in a childcare setting.  
  • Plan
The childcare setting should work with you and any specialist professionals involved to set out what support your child should get to help them meet their learning outcomes
  • Do
The childcare setting will carry out the support plan for a set period of time.
  • Review
The childcare setting will work with you and any specialist professionals to review what progress has been made and where the plan was successful or needs changing. The review process will decide if more support is required or if your child is making progress with the support they are receiving. Usually, a review would happen 3 times a year.

The Assess, Plan, Do, Review process is a continuous cycle, learning about your child and their needs and improving the support offered over time.

If your child has a support plan, it should be reviewed three times a year. Speak to your child’s childcare setting about how they carry out reviews and how you will be involved.

Early Years and Education, Health and Care Plans

An Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), or EHC plan, is a legal document which describes:

An EHCP offers more involved and higher level support than a written plan.

A child under 5 should have an EHCP when their needs are severe. It is less common for a child under 5 to be considered for an EHCP, as most children receive an EHCP later in life when there may be more evidence of the ways in which they are not meeting age-related expectations.

There is very little difference between an EHCP for a child under 5 and an older child, though the teams helping to write it will be different and will include the views of the childcare setting or early years specialists.

All EHC assessment and plans are coordinated by the ISEND Assessment and Planning team. However, in most cases a child under 5 will first be referred to the ISEND Early Years Service. This can either be done by a professional, such as a health visitor, GP, paediatrician, a childcare setting, or you can complete the referral yourself.

Children with EHCPs also go through a different process to apply for primary school.

The EHCP will help plan the transition from preschool to primary school.  If you think your child requires an EHCP, you should speak to their childcare setting, a health visitor or GP. It doesn't matter who you first speak to, they should all be able to help you begin the process.

To know more about EHCPs and how they work, please visit this websites section on Education, Health and Care Plans.

You can also find out more about the ISEND services mentioned within this section:

ISEND Early Years Service

The ISEND Early Years’ Service (EYS) supports pre-school aged children with SEND. This may include complex needs that create a barrier to learning and inclusion.

EYS also offer an 'Early Link' strand of the service. This is offered to children with significant medical and/or complex needs. In order to access this service, 4 or more professionals need to be involved in their care (excluding HVs and GP).

The ISEND Early Years’ Service also supports pre-school aged children who have English as an Additional Language.

Four children and two adults playing in a playground.

Early Years Funding for SEND

Free education and childcare for 2-year-olds 

Commonly called Early Years Education Entitlement (EYEE), funding is available for some children to receive 15 hours free childcare from the age of 2. This can be dependent on the parent or carer being in receipt of certain benefits, but some children can also receive 15 hours free childcare if they: 

For more information visit the Childcare costs page on the East Sussex County Council website.

Early Year Inclusion Support Fund (EYISF)

Early Years Providers (nurseries, preschools and childminders) can apply for extra funding for up to 15 hours per week, term time only. This supports children with special educational needs, disabilities (SEND) or complex medical needs that are impacting on their educational inclusion within the setting.

The additional support will usually be provided by the Early Years Support Service.

Not all children with SEND require this additional funding and most SEND support is the responsibility of the childcare setting. To find out if a child or your setting qualifies for the fund, ask your nursery or childminder to complete an EYISF application form and send it to the Early Years Support Service.

Children whose parents are entitled to the 30 hours working parent/carer Early Years Education Entitlement (EYEE) may also be able to receive help that matches their attendance.

Disability Access Fund

This is an annual, one-off payment directly to your early years provider. It is for 3 or 4 year olds from the funding period after their third birthday (January, April or September) who are receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

This is an annual grant of £615 per child and is funding an early year provider can use to purchase equipment which can help make reasonable adjustments to the setting. 

The payment can’t split between two providers. If your child attends more than one provider, you must decide which one gets the funding. 

To enable your early years provider to make a claim:

Find out more by visiting the government web page for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for children.

Applying For and Starting School

Applying for school without an Education, Health and Care Plan

If your child has SEND but not an Education, Health and Care Plan (An EHCP is a high-level support plan for children with significant learning difficulties), they should apply for a mainstream school alongside other children their age. All schools are able to support children with SEND and your child’s pre-school will help communicate what support your child needs to make sure there is a smooth transition.

It is important to visit the school you would like to send your child to and speak to them about your child’s needs. Ask to meet with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). All mainstream schools have a duty to meet the needs of children with SEND which is set out in the national SEND Code of Practice.

Applying for school with an Education, Health and Care Plan

The admissions system for children with EHCP is different; you do not go through the normal admissions system.

Instead, part of the process of getting an EHCP involves getting a ‘named’ school. This means that you can express a preference for the school you want at the time you first get the EHCP or when your child moves to a different phase of education.

You can also ask for a change of school at an annual review. 

For more information on admissions and school support, visit this websites School Age (5-16) section.

Additional Help and Support

Health Visitors

Families of children under 5 with SEND should speak in the first instance to their health visitor about additional support they could receive. Health visitors have a broad role in supporting families where there are SEND needs and can support you with identifying other services who can help. 

If you are unsure about any aspect relating to childcare settings and SEND you can speak directly to your health visitor.

To understand more about the role of health visiting and SEND, visit this websites section on Health Visiting and Health.


Portage is a home visiting educational service for pre-school children. The service offers advice, information and support to families of children with severe learning disabilities who may have other additional needs, such as physical, medical, sensory and autistic spectrum conditions. 

Support For You and Your Family

The East Sussex Local Offer also has a page with advice and guidance for families on different ways they can be supported, which we recommend reading, called Support For You and Your Family.


Amaze SENDIASS (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service) are a local charity who offer free, independent, and impartial advice for all matters relating to SEND. Contact Amaze SENDIASS:

East Sussex Local Offer directory of services

You can visit our SEND-specific online directory, hosted on East Sussex 1Space, that lists many different services both throughout the county and online. Services include advice, guidance and support groups, activities and events and mental health and wellbeing support among many other topics:

NHS - Health A to Z

While the East Sussex Local Offer aims to provide as much information as possible, there may be some conditions that aren't covered in thorough detail. The NHS website has pages that list all conditions, with information and advice on how to get extra support:

Glossary of East Sussex SEND terms

Some of the terms used on this website are explained on our page, Glossary of East Sussex SEND Terms.

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