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Early Years Education, Childcare and SEND

Early Years 0-5

Childcare Settings and SEND

All childcare settings (nurseries, childminders and pre-schools) can meet the needs of children with Special Educational Needs or Disability (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).” Early Years Foundation Stage

Outdoor Nursery Session with SENCO

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

Every childcare setting will also have a SEND specialist that is usually called a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (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 (see the next heading > Early Years and assess, plan, do, review for more details).

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

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

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/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. 

Finding Childcare

With additional support, a child with significant SEND should be able to attend any childcare setting.

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. See our heading Early Years funding for SEND.

For more detailed information on how to find a suitable nursery and what to expect, we recommend following the link below, to find a guide on how to choose a nursery for your child with SEND, from Coram, 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:

Early Diagnosis

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 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 (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 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.

To read more on the Assess, Plan, Do, Review process, visit our page in the school support section:

Early Years and Education Health and Care Plans

An Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) 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 to the ISEND Early Years Service. This can either be done by a professional, such as a Health Visitor, GP, Paediatrician, or a childcare setting. Or, you can complete the referral yourself.

Children with EHCPs also go through a different process to apply for primary school (see our heading on Applying for and starting school >).

The EHCP will help plan the transition from preschool to Primary.  If you think your child requires an EHCP, 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 in general and how they work please visit our EHCP section:

You can also visit our page on ISEND services, to find out more about:

ISEND Early Years Service

The ISEND Early Years Service (EYS) provides specialist support for children in East Sussex under five who have special educational needs or a disability or medical condition, and specialist support is needed. Also support for children who do not speak English as their first language, and have significant communication difficulties because of this.

They will support children who have higher levels of needs and advise childcare settings on how to provide support to children with SEND.

A referral to the Early Years Service would usually be made by your child's childcare setting, Health Visitor, or medical professional, such as a pediatrician. 

You can find out more information on EYS, by clicking the link below:

Outdoor Play

Help Using Multiple SEN Services

The Early Link Service is provided by the Early Years Service and can support you and your preschool child if you use multiple special educational needs (SEN) support services.

We’ll help you manage your child’s care if your child:

What help is provided?

You’ll work with an Early Years Service practitioner, who can bring in specialist staff when needed. They will:

How do I apply?

Parents, carers and professionals can apply using the referral form below.

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, by clicking the link below:

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.


ISEND EYISF Application form

Download: docx (445KB)(opens in new tab)

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:

You can find out more about the Disability Living Allowance, including the eligibility, by clicking the link below:

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 Needs 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 a school with an EHCP

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 please visit our 'School Age (5-16) section:

Extra Support for You and Your Family

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. To understand more about the role of Health Visiting and SEND please visit our section on:

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. To find out more, please visit our section on:

If you are unsure about any aspect relating to childcare settings and SEND you can speak directly to your Health Visitor. You can also speak to the Amaze Special Educational Needs and Disability Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS), who offer a local advice line for parents and carers on all aspects of SEND. We recommend that you access their advice or support from the very start of the process. This service is free and can be contacted on:

Alternatively, you can visit their website for more information:

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:


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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