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Childcare experts are calling for urgent action to improve access to early years education for children with special educational needs.
One in five families with children needing SEND in early years face being turned away from a provision setting due to their child’s needs, according to new research.
A survey of more than 550 childcare experts, conducted by the early years SEND specialist Dingley’s Promise, found that 27% of settings reported that one year ago they were unable to offer any further spaces for children with SEND, rising to 57% reporting they would not be able to offer spaces following the introduction of the new childcare entitlements.
This is at a time when 95% of settings report that the number of children with SEND is increasing and 85% of local authorities saying they currently have insufficient SEND provision.
The problem is being compounded, say experts, by a lack of SEND training and complicated funding processes.
Dingley’s Promise says that, without action now, the new entitlements are likely to cause even greater exclusion of children with SEND. It is launching a manifesto this week which calls for workforce development, including inclusion training for every member of staff, simple and sufficient funding systems and a long-term focus on securing enough places for all children that need them.
Catherine McLeod, CEO of Dingley’s Promise, said: “We strongly believe that unless there is inclusion training for all early years practitioners and simple, accessible and sufficient funding streams to support inclusion, the new entitlements risk excluding even more children with SEND. It is critical that decision makers consider the impact of the new entitlements on children with SEND and take action now to avoid creating even more exclusion of our
most vulnerable children.”
Neil Leitch, of the Early Years Alliance, added: “Every child, including those with additional needs or disabilities, should be able to easily access high-quality early education and support – but, sadly, as the research shows, it is becoming increasingly difficult for families to be able to do so.
“At the Alliance, we know that early educators are extremely committed to supporting children with SEND, but they are dealing with a system that is underfunded, overly complex and, frankly, entirely unfit for purpose. This has made it close to impossible for many to be able to do so sustainably, leaving many with no option but to limit the provision they are able to offer.”
He said the Government’s childcare expansion plan would only put more pressure on nurseries, “meaning the uphill battles facing providers and families will get unbearably steeper”.
He stated: “As such, it is absolutely critical that the recommendations included in Dingley’s Promise’s manifesto – including its calls for better workforce training, simplified and sufficient funding for SEND support and a long-term focus on building early years SEND sufficiency – are acted upon as a matter of urgency. As it stands, the situation that children, families and providers are faced with is entirely unacceptable.”