What are special educational needs? An official definition of what is meant by ‘special educational need’ and ‘learning difficulty’ can be found in the 1996 Education Act. On page 7 is an extract from Section 312. You will see that ‘SEN’ can cover a range of conditions, depending on the amount of support a child needs.
Definition of special educational needs
A child has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.
A child has a learning difficulty if he or she:
(a) has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age; or
(b) has a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age in schools within the area of the local education authority
(c) is under five and falls within the definition at (a) or (b) above or would do if special educational provision were not made for the child.
A child must not be regarded as having a learning difficulty solely because the language or medium of communication of the home is different from the language in which he or she is or will be taught.
Special educational provision means:
(a) for a child over two, educational provision which is additional to, or otherwise different from, the educational provision made generally for children of the child’s age in maintained schools, other than special schools, in the area
(b) for a child under two, educational provision of any kind.
Identifying SEN early
Children might be described as having SEN for many different reasons: a physical disability, a language or communication difficulty, behaviour or emotional difficulty, or delayed development. Sometimes a child will come to your setting with SEN which have already been identified by other professionals or agencies. At other times, you will identify the SEN of a child in your setting. Early years practitioners have a duty to recognize and identify any SEN within their settings in order to plan what action can be taken to support and help the child.
Once a child has been found to ‘have’ SEN, this does not mean that they are somehow ‘different for evermore. The aim is to identify SEN and alleviate individual difficulties so that, for many children, they will no longer have such significant needs. ‘SEN’ is therefore a pragmatic term, to be used flexibly because of the steps you are adopting, rather than to be used as a label for a child.
Early years provision
Over the past thirty years the rights of children with SEN to receive quality education and to have their SEN met have increased . dramatically. We now know how important it is to intervene early in a child’s life if we are to prevent or alleviate SEN. The SEN Code of Practice and the Children Act have provided us with guidance in this.
Over the years, we have seen a move from the segregated care of children with SEN through to integrated education in local mainstream settings (“if the child can cope’) through to inclusion (‘education for all’). There is also a move towards meeting theme of children and families in their own homes and communities with various SURESTART schemes now flourishing. More early years places are now available for children under five and there are greater responsibilities on early years workers to identify and meet SEN of children in their settings.
The Early Learning Goals
Early years providers who are registered with their local Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership are expected to deliver a ‘broad and balanced curriculum across six Areas of Learning as defined
in the Early Learning Goals and the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (QCA). The six areas are: Personal, social and emotional development; Communication, language and literacy; Mathematical development; Knowledge and understanding of the world; Physical development; Creative development. This paves the way for children’s early learning to be followed through into Baseline Assessment measures on entry to school (introduced from September 1998) and into National Curriculum assessment for school-age children. The integration of the Foundation Stage curriculum and Baselines Assessment should contribute to the earlier identification of children who are experiencing difficulties in making progress.
Learning through play
Trouble has been taken to set the Early Learning Goals into context so that they are seen as an aid to planning ahead rather than as an early years curriculum to replace ‘learning through play’. Effective early years education needs both a relevant curriculum and · practitioners who understand and are able to implement it. To this end, practical examples of Stepping Stones towards the Goals are provided in the detailed curriculum guidance. In the Special Needs in the Early Years series, each activity in the seven activity books is linked to a learning objective for the whole group, and also to an individual learning target for any child who has SEN.
Preparing for inspection
In order to ensure that nursery education is of good quality, registered early years providers are required to have their educational provision inspected regularly. The nursery inspectors, appointed by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), assess the quality of educational provision, look at the clarity of roles and responsibilities within the setting, are interested in plans for meeting the needs of individual children and for developing partnership with parents and carers.