SEND in England: SEND support for children under five

This page covers support for children under five with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in early years settings.

It explains what early years settings are, and what to do and who to talk to if you think your child has SEND.

It covers the types of support available for children under five, what to do if your child needs more help, and the rules and procedures early years setting must follow.

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We support people with complex disabilities of all ages.

From our free play sessions for children under eight, to our adult residential care services, we’re with disabled people and their families every step of the way.

Get in touch with our team to find out how our services could support you.

If your child has special educational needs and disabilities, or you think they may have, getting support as early as possible will give the best outcomes for their education and development. 

What are early years setting?

Early years settings are settings for children under five include:

  • Childminders
  • Day nurseries
  • Pre-schools
  • Holiday play schemes
  • Childcare in your own home

Early years settings that get government funding should have a special educational needs and disabilities coordinator (SENDCo).

The SENDCo is a teacher who should make sure all the children with SEND get the support they need.

Their role includes making sure you are closely involved with decisions regarding your child’s progress and intervention, liaising with outside professionals, advising and supporting early years staff on implementing the SEND code of practice.

Who do I talk to if I think my child has SEND?

If you think your child may have SEND, you can talk to:

  • The special educational needs coordinator (SENDCo) in your child’s nursery or pre-school.
  • A doctor, health adviser or any professionals involved with your child’s medical or social care.

If your child isn’t in a nursery, pre-school or childminders, you can get in touch with your local council.

What support is there for children under five?

SEN support for children under five includes:

  • A written progress check when your child is two years old.
  • A child health visitor carrying out a health check when your child is aged two to three.
  • A written assessment in the summer term of your child’s first year of primary school.
  • Reasonable adjustments for children with a disability, such as providing aids like tactile signs (signs using touch).

What if my child needs a lot more support?

If your child needs more support than early years setting can normally provide, there are different options:

  • Your child may need an education, health and care needs assessment, which may lead to an education, health and care plan.
  • They may be referred to specialists such as educational psychologists or speech and language therapists. 
  • In some areas, you may be able to use a home-visiting education service called portage
  • If your child has complex SEND, they may be offered a place in a specialist nursery.

Your local authority has a duty to make sure there are enough early years options for all families in the area who need it. 

They must help you to find one that is right for your family.

Do all early years settings follow the same rules?

Nurseries, playgroups and childminders registered with Ofsted follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework.

The EYFS framework makes sure that early years providers can identify and support children with disabilities and children who have, or may have, SEND and medical conditions.

Using the EYFS framework, early years settings continually observe and review how your child is learning.

Your views as a parent play an important part in this. 

The framework includes two formal reviews:

  • At age two, looking at language and communication, and physical, personal, social and emotional development.
  • At age five, looking at literacy, mathematics, understanding the world and expressive arts and design.

How do early years settings support children with SEND?

The approach to supporting children with SEND in early years settings has four stages:

1. Assess

The early years setting, together with the SENDCo and parents, work to explore the cause of any learning difficulties or delays.

2. Plan

Staff should talk to you about your child and any extra help you think they need. If necessary, they’ll ask for more information if needed. 

For example, they may ask an educational psychologist to visit and advise them on how to help your child. 

There should be a written plan setting out this support.

3. Do

Depending on your child’s needs, they may receive extra help, to learn language skills, for example, from an adult or in a small group. 

Sometimes, a specialist may work with your child directly or set up a programme and train staff to follow it. For example, if your child has multi-sensory impairments, an MSI specialist teacher can work with them.

4. Review

The early years setting should agree with you when your child’s progress will be reviewed. 

The review is a chance to look at your child’s progress, see if the support is working and if your child needs more of the same help or help of a different kind.

Support from Sense

We’re here for people with complex disabilities and their families all over the UK. Get in touch to find out more about the services we offer.

This content was last reviewed in May 2024. We’ll review it again in 2026.