Learning and Development

Early years SENCo – Effective strategies that won’t break your budget

  • Early years SENCo – Effective strategies that won’t break your budget

As we come out the other side of the pandemic, nursery settings are seeing a rapid increase in their SEND cohorts.

According to the government’s 2022 SEND Review, “since 2014 demand for SEND support has increased year-on-year and there are now over 430,000 children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in England, an increase of 10% in the last year alone.”

Whether it’s the case that there are now more children with complex needs in the UK, that settings are better equipped for early identification, or that more young people are being diagnosed than previously, one thing is certain: the increase in SEND cohorts isn’t reflected in the amount of inclusion funding settings receive from Local Authorities.

And this leads us to the difficult question of how we can best implement inclusive practice within the provision we currently have, and ensure our children with SEND are school ready (although true inclusion would mean schools being ready for them!).

You may be thinking this is a big task, but let’s explore six strategies to support your SEND practice which can be implemented on a shoestring budget.

Speech and language toolkit

Embedding a robust speech and language toolkit, that delivers secure early identification alongside much needed early action strategies that are simple to carry out, is the first fundamental savvy support structure for SENDCos.

Kids Planet recommends the WellComm Toolkit, for a number of reasons. Designed by speech and language therapists (SALTs), it facilitates an objective screening of children’s stage of speech and language development in relation to a set of expected criteria, which enables you accurately to pinpoint their baseline and starting point.

It’s a useful tool to open conversations with parents. Not only that, it comes with a separate book of specific strategies, The Big Book of Ideas, related to each section of the screening.

These are easy to understand, implement and share with parents to do at home. All of this allows you to take early action in supporting children’s speech and language skills, while you wait for professional input following the ever-increasing SALT referral time frames; and increases parent partnership, too.

Use the senses

Settings up and down the country start the day with a routine “good morning” song, but let’s think how we could spruce up this ordinary practice to enable all our children to tune in by offering differentiated levels using the five main senses (vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste).

Start by assigning each day to a particular colour, for example, Monday could be known as the RED day. Then, when singing your ‘good morning’ song on a Monday you could also incorporate:

● Showing children the word “Monday” written in red type (vision)

● Spraying a scent associated with something red, such as strawberries, into the air (smell)

● Passing round red objects, such as a toy bus or ladybird, for the children to hold (touch)

● Offering something edible that links to the colour of the day, such as watermelon (taste)

If embedded in all rooms, this multi-sensory strategy not only supports the engagement of all children, but can also aid transitions by providing a familiar activity.

Focus your assessments

The Kids Planet SEND Team’s favourite phrase is that we are ‘half SENDCos and half detectives’, meaning we spend our time investigating what the children are doing and why, so we can implement the most appropriate support strategies that are motivating and encourage success.

We do this by carrying out SEND observations in line with the four broad areas of need, scrutinising a select set of core skills focusing on areas of development and strengths.

Communication and interaction

What is their stage of speech and language development, e.g., vocalisations, single words? What is their social stage of interaction, e.g., how do they make their needs known? 

Cognition and learning

What stage of play are they demonstrating? Sensory, symbolic, functional, imaginative? Are there any schematic tendencies?

Physical and sensory – fine/gross motor development and 8 senses

Are they meeting their expected physical developmental milestones? Are they demonstrating any sensory differences within the eight senses, either hypersensitive or hyposensitive responses? 

Social, emotional and mental health

Use the Leuven scales to identify their level of wellbeing and involvement.

Set simple, SMART targets

A good Individual Education Plan really shouldn’t need a SEND dictionary to decipher it. In fact, there is only a small set of support strategies that professionals select from, such as:

● Objects of reference

● Offering choices

● Creating opportunities for children to communication (environmental sabotage)

● Ready, Steady, Go games

● People games

Express these clearly, in a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) manner, and your Individual Education Plans will be superb.

Build a professional network

In life, getting anywhere always comes down to who you know, not what you know.

Creating strong working relationships with your significant Local Authority professionals (SALT, Area SENDCo, Portage service etc) is a useful strategy for getting those much-needed professional reports, arranging observations/practical sessions in your setting, accessing training or reaching out for advice.

The Local Offer websites are excellent hubs to gain all the required information and valuable resources. Also, visiting your local specialist resource provisions is a fantastic way to upskill your SEND practice, as well as enabling you to provide insight to parents when discussing their child’s educational options.

Submit EHCNAs before Christmas

Being ‘school ready’ is a sensitive phrase for children with SEND. However, there is one document SENDCos can submit in a time effective manner to ensure children with SEND are provided with the support to be as ready as they can be, which is the EHCNA (educational, health and care needs assessment).

If an EHC Plan is granted, this ensures that children have the best opportunity to access the most appropriate educational provision, whether that be specialist, resourced or mainstream.

This statutory process takes a lengthy 20 weeks, though; so when you are saying “goodbye” to your September school leavers, it’s a good time to start submitting the next cohort’s EHCNAs.

If we could sit around a table and discuss children’s strengths and needs, we would without doubt secure the support and inclusion funding they require; but we need to translate this onto paper, which can be a stumbling block.

A helpful tip is to write the document in the first person, so that the perspective expressed is the child’s voice.

Also, Kids Planet has seen improvements in EHCNA submissions when team members write down when they provide additional support for the child, above what they do for their peers during the same session, which creates a provision map of required support in a daily timetable format that is ready to submit.

So, what does the future hold? The SEND Review 2022 highlighted that early years settings are underfunded, and there are plans to introduce a new national framework of banding and price tariffs for funding, matched to levels of need and types of education provision.

Hopefully, then, the postcode lottery and lack of SEND inclusion funding is set for a revamp; but for now, we will continue to do the best we can within the parameters that we have.

Becky Eckersley is the SEND Support Team Lead at Kids Planet Day Nurseries. In October 2022, the SEND team at Kids Planet was honoured to receive the NASEN Award for Early Years Provision.