- The Senco organises training for staff as and when needed, as well as co-ordinating care for children with SEND
- Both settings are rated "good" by Ofsted, and the Department for Education visited the nurseries to see how the SEND Code of Practice was implemented
About a quarter of all children currently attending Ladybirds and Brookvale nurseries in Halton, Cheshire are recognised by the settings as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The nurseries are not advertised as specialising in SEND care, but two years ago cluster manager Julie Dean noticed numbers rising. She organised additional training for her staff to meet children's particular needs, such as British Sign Language or Makaton. However, as the nurseries' reputation for good SEND support increased, so did the number of children referred to it by other nurseries and the local authority.
As the SEND requirements rose, it became difficult for the settings' deputy managers to cope with additional paperwork and organisation. Dean asked the Pre-school Leaning Alliance, which operates the cluster, to provide a special educational needs co-ordinator (Senco) for both sites.
Senco Kelly Thomas joined the cluster in April 2015. She identifies and delivers staff's specialist training to meet children's different needs. She also co-ordinates children's additional care, as detailed in their SEND support plan. These explain interventions decided for the child if they have not yet received a formal diagnosis or education, health and care (EHC) plan. Speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and educational psychologists are some of the professionals attending the nursery daily to do one-to-one sessions. "Before the Senco, it was really hard to manage individual children's timetables," says Dean.
Thomas also leads on paperwork, such as applying for enhanced provision from Halton Borough Council. This additional funding can finance up to 15 hours a week of one-to-one care. Currently, the cluster has three children receiving the grant.
The Senco also completes applications for children to receive the early years pupil premium once they are three years old, and for EHC plans before a child goes to school. Further, she supports nursery practitioners completing a two-year progress check alongside health visitors. And she can help diagnose SEND if a child is presenting concerning behaviour.
Dean says the settings' layouts helps them cater for children with SEND. Both are attached to children's centres, which means they can access additional rooms, including sensory rooms. This is important when a child needs one-to-one time with a practitioner, or time out, adds Dean.
As required by the Equality Act 2010, the nurseries make adjustments to meet children's particular needs - some extensive. One example was for a toddler with a severe hearing impairment. As hearing aids can make ears sensitive, nursery staff sought advice from a specialist hearing teacher. As a result, they reduced noise by hanging curtain divides between parts of the setting's rooms, and putting sound-absorbing mats on equipment.
Staff also adapt activities to suit children's particular needs. For example, using hand signs when singing to encourage understanding, and props during nursery rhymes such as puppets. "Now and next" information boards hang on the walls for individual children to help them understand what is happening. Staff provided one toddler with mobility problems with a wheeled toy to enable him to play outside with children the same age.
The cluster works closely with Halton Borough Council. Dean describes SEND practice in the area as "quite hot", and says the authority's local offer - the information authorities are required to publicise about SEND provision under the Children and Families Act 2014 - is good.
The nurseries also access council advice or training. For example, the Senco attends an educational psychologists group where she takes children's case files to receive feedback on intervention strategies while awaiting the outcome of formal support applications. "We can feed that back to the parents," says Dean. The nursery also encourages parents of children on enhanced provision to attend local authority training alongside their child's key person. "It's really good for getting the relationships going," says Dean.
Both settings are rated "good" by Ofsted, but only Ladybirds has been inspected since Thomas was appointed. Ladybirds' 2015 inspection report states: "Staff work very well in partnership with other professionals, in order to effectively support the progress of disabled children and those with SEN." Inspectors visited Brookvale in January 2017. The report is not yet published, but Dean says they "commented on how good the SEND practice is".
In 2016, the Department for Education also visited the settings to see how they were implementing the 2014 SEND Code of Practice. The department did not provide any written feedback, but Dean says the visitors were "impressed".
Dean says funding specialist provision has become more challenging. In particular, the nursery used to have more children receiving enhanced provision. She says the application process has become more complex and this can put off other nurseries from accepting children with SEND. But if the cluster has not been able to secure enhanced provision to fund extra care, Thomas has been able to fill the gap by providing one-to-one support.
Dean believes all settings should offer the same level of SEND provision as her cluster. "Parents should be able to take their child to a nursery at the end of their road," she says. "We're lucky we've got a strong Senco that can give us all this training - there should be more training for all settings."
This article is part of CYP Now's special report on special educational needs and disabilities. Click here for more