January 2017

Meeting the needs of children with SEND in the early years

Report summary

Aims and Methods 

This report presents a qualitative study comprising thirty-two interviews from sixteen case studies of parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and the early years settings attended by these children.  Case studies were carried out between October 2015 and January 2016 when children were aged three or four years old.

The case studies included a range of health conditions, including speech delay, autism, Global Development Delay (GDD) and a combination of physical and cognitive needs. However, the majority of special educational needs were related to delays in speech development. The settings included in the case studies were a mix of nursery classes, private, voluntary and specialist providers.

Key Findings

  • Provision and Support: While parents and settings generally felt that there was sufficient provision, information and support for children with SEND in their local area, there was a sense that information about SEND could be made more accessible to parents.


  • Identification and monitoring: All early years providers had processes in place to identify SEND and monitor children’s progress, often combining informal observation with more formal monitoring procedures. This worked particularly well when accessing local support and advice for example from area Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs). Building strong communication with parents was seen as integral in early identification of SEND.


  • Communication between parents and providers: Parents and settings both typically felt that communication channels worked well, with parents given adequate opportunities to speak to staff, discuss progress and raise concerns, formally and informally. Where parents showed limited involvement in steering or shaping provision this was framed as a trust in providers to know what was best for children. 


  • Introduction of EHC plans: The new EHC process was generally felt to be a positive development although some providers were reliant on support from other SEND service providers, who were constrained in the amount of help they were able to offer. It was recognised that the process could be slow and administratively burdensome, although providers felt that this would improve over time. 


  • Resources and funding: The greatest barrier settings faced to fully meeting the needs of children with SEND was resource constraints, including a lack of additional funding. There were also issues with the complexity of funding application processes and the length of time it took to receive additional funding, as well as the adequacy of amounts.