Why early years SEND support isn't working

Everyone wants the best outcomes for SEND children, says Helen Pinnington – but without enough staff, it’s very difficult

SEND: Support for children with SEND in early years isn't as effective as it should be because of a lack of funding, says Helen Pinnington

Every year there is a similar conversation between members of the Reception team, as we discuss the new children with SEND.

The easy part of the conversation is identifying the children and knowing the specialist support that they will need.

The difficulties arise when it comes to how we might be able to deliver the support.


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We have some fantastically skilled adults, and a good positive attitude towards inclusion, but we don’t always have the capacity.

Providing for the variety of needs can be really difficult and it is one of the biggest headaches in planning for quality in the EYFS.

Over the years we have tried many different ways of juggling the timetable to accommodate extra SEN teaching. We have tried being creative with the deployment of adults, yet at times it can seem near-impossible to get this right. Unfortunately, it almost always involves compromise on some level.

SEND in early years  

We have to remember that EYFS teaching and learning is different.  Unlike key stage 1 and 2, the children do not spend large amounts of their time in direct teaching, which is significant because it allows time for the TA to peel off and work with groups.

In early years, when we lose an adult during continuous provision it has huge implications (perhaps better described as chaos). We need all adults to be actively involved in child-initiated learning for it to be effective.

Out of determination to make it work, I have tried many drastic approaches over the years, such as closing off the outdoor area or sharing a TA across multiple classes. 

We mostly manage with some short bursts of whole-class teaching, during which we release the TA to work with a few children. 

So, yes, these things can be done. But I have to question what we are really achieving. When we spread adults too thinly we are not providing a quality learning experience for all children.  

An extra pair of hands?

It is also key to consider the age of the children. Whether we are reading a story or mid-way through tidy-up time, we Reception teachers often experience memorable moments of madness working with such young children.

Picture Ms Jones, about to take her little group as the rest of the class have settled on the carpet for a story. Suddenly, little Johnny projectile vomits. Ms Jones dashes to clean up the sick, ensuring that she follows the correct procedure with gloves, powder and the magic “fluids machine”.  

The teacher is busy herding curious children away from the scene and Ms Jones is busy dealing with a vomit puddle, when they then hear a little voice in the toilet calling for help. We all wish we could grow an extra pair of hands in these moments.  

And this is just to manage the minimum care and nurture.

In my view, the TA in early years is your second teacher, the bare minimum we should provide for all children. They shouldn’t be responsible for that dual role of delivering extra teaching and support for SEN as well. 

Additional support

This year we have a very high number of children with SEND and a real range of needs, some very complex. We have decided to allocate an additional adult to Reception for the mornings.

This means that a full timetable of SEN interventions can be properly delivered and it has already had a noticeable impact in terms of maintaining consistent and high-quality learning for the children.  

The timetable features specialist teaching programmes such as Bucket Time for children on the autistic spectrum, Nursery Narrative and language interventions. 

Extra time is also planned to support particular children within their child-initiated play – for example, those who struggle with social skills and managing their emotions.

I realise that we are very fortunate to be able to do this in the short term but I know it is not a long-term solution.

The answer to fully provide for these children is to have more adults. I would love to see a review of the statutory framework setting out a higher adult ratio for Reception-aged children.   

We can be as creative as we like with time and physical resources yet it is the number of adults that will truly make a difference. 

TAs are being stretched further and further, particularly with the increasing shortfall in funding for ECHP support. It is a simple fact that schools need more money for us to be able to provide for SEND effectively. 

Helen Pinnington is early years foundation lead at St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School in Bedhampton, Hampshire

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