2 problems with SEND at EYFS – and how to fix them

Too many children with SEND are falling behind in the early years, says Julian Grenier – we must tackle two issues
5th November 2020, 12:00pm

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2 problems with SEND at EYFS – and how to fix them

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/2-problems-send-eyfs-and-how-fix-them
Early Years: What The New Eyfs Profile Update Means - & The Impact Of Covid

Children with SEND are, on average, 15 months behind other children by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), according to the Education Policy Institute's annual report. That's a staggering gap, when you consider that the children are only 5 years old. It needs urgent attention.

SEND is a very broad term. In the nursery school that I lead, we have a few children with complex medical syndromes and many children with a short-term language delay. They are all very different, yet they are all "children with SEND". In total, 44 per cent of children are described as having a special educational need at some point in their schooling, according to the Education Endowment Foundation (although only around 15 per cent of pupils are considered to have had SEND at any one time). That's why we need to focus on helping every child to access a broad early years curriculum.

Problems with SEND support in EYFS

There are many problems that we need to overcome here; I'm going to discuss two of them.

1. Underfunding

Firstly, we need more money in the early years. Most children in the EYFS are in private and voluntary nurseries, or with childminders. That sector suffers from a "funding crisis", reports the Early Years Alliance - and that was before we had the Covid-19 pandemic. Although many staff make terrific efforts to meet children's needs, their hard work and commitment are not enough. They need expert training and support to help them identify and help children with special educational needs. Otherwise, many vulnerable children won't get the early education they need.

2. Poor-quality assessment

The second problem is poor-quality assessment. Many schools and settings use age-related assessment bands, drawn from Development Matters, to give children labels like "16-26 months secure" or "22-36 months emerging". This type of assessment is meaningless. What is the difference between "16-26 months secure" and "22-36 months emerging"? The label does not tell us what the child can do or what will help them to make further progress. The thoughtful comments made by Sendco Rachel Rossiter, in the EEF's guidance report, are spot-on: "All too often, children who are 'working below' national expectations are given arbitrary labels without a precise assessment."

Those unhelpful, age-related labels can depress teachers' expectations. Take my daughter, who is dyslexic; she wasn't reading and writing like a toddler when she was in Reception. She was reading and writing like a five-year old with a learning difficulty. Interestingly, the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project found that "children who were described by their teachers as 'struggling to learn' experienced more creative and PSE aspects of the curriculum and less literacy and knowledge and understanding of the world". 

Another parent recently told me how her child, who is on the autism spectrum disorder, spent much of his time in Reception pushing an art trolley around the room - because it was what he liked to do.

Instead of receiving the intensive, specialist help that they needed to learn alongside their peers, our children were kept busy on the margins of the early years curriculum. I am pleased to report that both are doing well now: others aren't so lucky.

Dr Julian Grenier is the headteacher of Sheringham Nursery School and Children's Centre. He co-leads the East London Research School. @juliangrenier

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