Herefordshire’s response to increased incidence of Early Years Children with SEND - SEND Early Years and Inclusion

In Herefordshire we knew that we had rising numbers of EY children with SEND. Our ambition was to have an Early Years SEND service that encompasses a holistic approach to the early identification, support of, provision for and placement of Early Years children with SEND.

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In Herefordshire we knew that we had rising numbers of EY children with SEND. Our ambition was to have an Early Years SEND service that encompasses a holistic approach to the early identification, support of, provision for and placement of Early Years children with SEND.

As a Local Authority we had three main questions that we wanted to answer:

  • How do we make sure we have identified the right children, including those not yet in settings?
  • How do we make sure that the work we do is having an impact on those children?
  • How do we make sure that EY SEND children moving to Reception have the best chance of being successful?

Through robust use of data our early years teams provided answers to these questions as outlined below. Working from this evidence base, an improvement plan was constructed.

From the outset and through development and implementation, senior leadership support has provided endorsement and ensured pace and visibility for the work. The support and engagement of strategic, organisational leaders and frontline practitioners has been an essential wrap around and success factor in this work.

The principles of multi-agency working, collaboration and co-production has been threaded through the whole project and continues to inform all that we do. Our priorities through this joint work was upskilling the wider workforce, ensuring inclusive practice and all settings ‘getting it right from the welcome’ so that the children we identified early and well received timely and positive provision that met their needs and developed their learning potential.

The challenges

We identified a number of challenges and broke those down into six specific areas of focus, addressing each of these challenges would help us better understand and answer our initial three questions.

1. Rising numbers of children with SEND

  • 212 EY children on the EY SEND Caseload compared to (140 July 2022).
  • 127 children with SEND transitioning into Primary School compared to 81 (2022) and 92 (2021).
  • Children sitting on waiting lists, being ‘invisible’ because services were not joined up.
  • Children being eligible for DAF but nurseries/parents not being aware of this.

2. Rising numbers of children with SEND entering mainstream

  • 99 of the 127 EY SEND children are transitioning to mainstream school.

3. Not enough specialist places for those children who require specialist provision

  • Early predictions suggested that we would have up to 25 children that may not have an EY Specialist place.

4. Increased numbers of children referred to Portage Prior to Early Years Inclusion Support

  • 211 families have been referred this academic year (compared to 108 2022)

5. Reduced confidence of staff working in schools and settings to be able to support the needs of the growing numbers of children with SEND.

6. Reception age children being returned to Nursery, delayed or deferred or on a part time timetable.

The solution

The solution had to be found through various routes. We took the components of the individual challenges and addressed them, whilst remaining focused on the need for this to be joined up and cohesive. Each area of activity would have far reaching impact across the area and in the longer term right through to outcomes at adulthood, so getting it right early and engaging a wide range of partners for the work was crucial.

The solutions we developed required attention to detail and to the feedback from those providing and caring for the children.

Solution for challenges 1 and 6:

Created a specific spreadsheet for knowing and analysing the EY SEND caseload so that we could better understand our cohort and their needs.

  • Analysis of the caseload led us to provide three additional training sessions focusing on ASD strategies for settings.
  • A successful bid to the Budget Working Group to align EY Inclusion Funding with the schools’ funding matrix to allow equity for our EY children with SEND.
  • Introduced a new funding monitoring phone call to replace a funding monitoring form, the emphasis of the phone call is the impact of spending – both in achievement data and holistic anecdotal impact (increased hours due to EYIF). We quickly realised that this was about spending smarter – not spending more.
  • DAF project to increase DAF uptake for supporting inclusion.
  • Delivered Level Three SENCo qualification to upskill the workforce.
  • Delivered Training - New to SENCo.
  • Delivered Training - SEN Strategies for those who are not the SENCo.
  • Delivered Training - EY and EHCP process.
  • Delivered Training - EY SEND Developmental Journal.
  • Delivered four SENCO support meetings each term.
  • Re-designed play plans to support target writing for setting staff – using colour coding to specifically help with target setting.
  • Restructured forms and paperwork to ensure that no form was a barrier to support.
  • Immediate response training when settings needing support are identified.
  • Worked with Paediatricians and the SEMH team to create a defined pathway for SEMH support.
  • Worked with the SEMH team to redesign the SEMH project to remove unnecessary forms for EY settings.
  • Distributed regular Early Years Graduated Approach (EYGA) emails that ensure settings have the latest documents.
  • Identified areas for specific training – schools with a nursery provision/child minders/pack away settings.
  • Included Dingley’s Promise training as part of the pathway for Inclusion Support.
  • Provided training for all those services that might be a ‘front door’ for families: PASS team, SEN Team, Health Visitors and Community Nursery Nurses, Peri-Natal Mental Health team, Paediatricians, SaLT, Paediatric Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists and Family Support Workers to ensure that we have a consistent message for the EYGA and the processes surrounding it.
  • Co-produced an information leaflet that services and settings can give to parents the first time they have a discussion about additional needs.

Solution for challenges 2, 5 and 6

Child Readiness Project including:

  • Our work on transition led us to start the Child Readiness Project – a series of actions and events to help settings to know how to support children’s transition and to support schools to be ready for the children they receive. This encompasses the work of the Early Years Advisors on strong universal transitions.
  • Whole day to provide information for Reception Teachers and SLT on Services, advice for preparing classrooms for cohorts etc.
  • Follow up advice surgeries from services.
  • Training session for EY settings and providers to ensure they know their responsibilities with regard to transition.
  • EY SEND staff attending transition meetings wherever possible.
  • Transition phone calls to discuss those children receiving transition funding.
  • Transition funding for those children in receipt of Early Years Inclusion Funding.
  • Receiving all transition documents for EY children with EY SEND.


  • Sufficiency planning to deliver new places for EY SEND provision.
  • Rolling out Dingley’s Promise training.
  • Specific training for school SENCos who have a Nursery on their site.
  • We developed a SEND audit to respond to Ofsted grading and support those settings for whom SEND provision is an area for development.

Solution for challenge 3:

  • Specialist needs discussions built into Portage Supervision.
  • Multi-agency meetings to discuss specialist needs (Specialist Communication teachers, Portage, Early Years Inclusion Officers and EY SEND Manager).
  • Half termly EY EHCP mapping with SEN Team Manager, EY SEND Manager, Portage and EYIO.
  • EY SEND caseload tracking.
  • Joined up working including Sufficiency and Capitals representation within the wider 0-5 Strategy along with health, education, children’s centres, community groups and libraries.
  • Escalation of the sufficiency issues to our school Social Inclusion multi-agency group and creative pursuit of options for increasing our specialist education offer in the context of special schools that were already at capacity.
  1. Working with a host school and other partners to develop a new nursery–reception base that would deliver additional capacity for autumn 2023 and an early intervention and assessment centre for the longer term. This is also seen as a centre of excellence which can to meet immediate need whilst providing successful transition and training for a mainstream schools as well as into our specialist sector.
  2. Working with the sufficiency planning to establish two new Mainstream Autism Bases (MAB) in schools located in different parts of the county

Solution to challenge 4:

New Portage structure put in place to support the growing caseload.

We redesigned Portage to offer a standard service, to those who were assessed as needing it, and a signposting service, for those families who already had professionals and services involved. This meant that families were supported far more quickly, with a named contact who supported them through any applications or necessary referrals etc.


We have measured impact through:

  • Surveys
  • Cost implications and value for money
  • Anecdotal feedback
  • Current caseload data
  • Looking at the data of those children previously known to the Service
  • Additional placement sufficiency for September 2023

Looking back at our original three questions, we can begin to outline our impact:

  • How do we make sure we have identified the right children, including those not yet in settings?
  • How do we make sure that the work we do is having an impact on those children?
  • How do we make sure that EY SEND children moving to Reception have the best chance of being successful?

Of the EHCPs awarded to Reception children in 2022/23, 100 per cent were known to Inclusion Support (an increase from 92 per cent 2021 and 43 per cent  2020– we are identifying these children more accurately.

Children who go on to need top up or an EHCP as they enter school are making up a lesser percentage of the EY caseload – indicating that more children have successfully entered school without additional funding. Data shows that the percentage of the EY caseload with the greatest needs is reducing, whilst we are still identifying accurately.

  • Of the 2020 EY SEND caseload, 27 per cent have entered school without the need for top up or EHCP.
  • Of the 2021 EY SEND caseload, 31 per cent have entered school without the need for top up or EHCP.
  • Of the 2022 EY SEND caseload, 39 per cent have entered school without the need for top up or EHCP.

The work we do is having a greater impact on those children who have the potential to enter school with their needs identified and met.

Impact from the work with settings

  • 100 per cent of practitioners attending training sessions said they felt more confident with the Graduated Approach.
  • 100 per cent  of practitioners attending said they felt more confident when writing SMART Targets.
  • 100 per cent of practitioners attending said they felt they had gained strategies that they could implement.
  • 100 per cent SENCOs attending said that they better understood the role of the SENCo.
  • 89 per cent SENCOs attending felt that they better understood the processes and services in Herefordshire as a result of the course.

Anecdotally, play plan targets are more often observed to be SMART when paperwork is received by the local authority and where it is not, settings are immediately contacted and given further training.


We increased the uptake of DAF in settings, 50 children have received DAF (compared to 25 in 2022).

Inclusion funding

Transition funding (which has been in place for three years), the new tariffs, aligned with the schools’ matrix (agreed Sept 2022), increased Inclusion support and better monitoring of funding have all had an impact on the way we spend money and those we can provide for.

In 2018/19 – the last ‘unaffected’ year before COVID 19 we spent:

£162,136 on Inclusion funding for 146 children – This did not include any transition funding, as this was not in place at the time.

In 2022/23 we have spent:

  • £195,810 supporting 220 children, including Transition funding for 21 children. Although an increase of just over £32,000 we are supporting 74 more children.
  • Our data tells us that 97 per cent  of settings believe that EYIF has a positive impact directly for the child.
  • We had one report that a setting was not sure that funding directly impacted the child, and in that case we took feedback (regarding staff skills and modelling) and incorporated it into all of our support, to ensure this was remedied.

Survey responses regarding inclusion support also state:

  • As a new SENCO, the early years support has been fantastic! I've had lots of questions, all of which have been answered quickly and have left me feeling confident to carry out my role.
  • The support we were given yesterday was fantastic. We were feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work involved but now feel so much calmer. Everything has now fallen into place thanks to our EYIO visit and patience. A huge thank you.
  • The introduction of SEN Network Meetings is great support. The suggested training from the EY SEND team has been good too. Always on the end of an email or phone call and always good at getting back to you too.

Impact from the Level 3 SENCo course

  • 100 per cent felt more confident in their role.
  • 100 per cent felt they better understood SEN legislation and processes

SENCos reported they:

  • Had been empowered to change Inclusive practice in their setting.
  • Understood that utilising all adults was necessary for good SEN practice.
  • They had gained skills that meant they could train those around them.
  • Understood that getting provision right for EY children with SEND meant getting provision right for all children.

The Level Three SENCO course provided SENCos with training and support from the EY SEND Team, with input from local services, making this national qualification personalised to Herefordshire.

Delegates at Level 3 SENCO course Hertfordshire






Impact from the Child Readiness Project

  • 97 per cent respondents felt that they had gained ideas to help support their new cohort.
  • 100 per cent respondents felt that they were better aware of Services that they can access to help.
  • 97 per cent better understand referral routes.
  • 100 per cent felt that they better understand the Graduated Approach as a result of the project.
  • 97 per cent felt that they were more confident that they would meet the needs of their new cohort.

The Child Readiness Day saw representatives from all the services that may be required to provide support as children transition into Reception. There were stands by school nursing, PCV Herefordshire, health visiting and the EAL team.

Anecdotal impact from Child Readiness Project feedback:

A very informative day. It was great to be able to network with colleagues and ask questions about various services at their display tables/during presentations. Today will have a positive impact on ensuring a smooth transition for our new cohort of pupils and will help us to follow the correct pathways/graduated approach.

Future Impact Monitoring Activities:

Reduction in part time timetables and exclusions within Early Years, mapping through the Social Inclusion Service.

Impact of the sufficiency work for those possible 25 children who were at risk of not having an appropriate setting

  • We managed to successfully place four of the 25 children in the new MABs
  • We managed to place six of the 25 children within existing Specialist provisions.
  • We are placing 10 of the 25 (three Nursery and seven Reception) in our new EYAB to have their complex learning needs met and consider if their future needs can me met within a mainstream schools supported by an effective transition programme and staff training.

Parents of five of the original 25 children identified, have chosen to consider mainstream with an EHCP.

Impact of Portage work under the new system

  • 100 per cent of families feel that Portage helps value the voice of the parent and child.
  • 88 per cent of families feel that Portage has given them confidence when referring to and interacting with other services.
  • Four new parents Portage trained.
  • Nine new settings Portage trained.

Survey comments include:

  • I honestly don’t know what I would have ever done without my portage worker, she has gone above and beyond and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you portage.
  • My Portage Worker has really has been wonderful in helping us as a family understand the services available. The support group had an extremely positive impact on both myself and Son and I am so grateful for all of the support she has arranged for us.
  • Just that a massive Thank you for everything. My portage worker has gone above and beyond to help my family and always willing to help where she can. Honestly this is one of the best services ever! Sometimes just knowing that if I need anything be a question or just having a bad day with my son, she is always available to answer my call text or email so again a massive thank you for all you do.
  • I am very grateful for the help and support of our Portage worker, the Portage team have helped some very difficult issues and made things so much easier and accessible thank you so very much for your ongoing support hard work hours and much needed help it’s scary being a parent and not knowing what to do with a child with extra needs this service has been a huge blessing and support.

How is the new approach being sustained?

We have a number of ways in which we are working to sustain the gains made by this work. Our aim is not to simply consolidate our work but build on those gains, being reflective and evaluative.

  • We will continue training other services that may be a ‘Front door’ to Early Years SEND.
  • We will continue to work closely with the Early Years Team, ensuring that the universal offer for all children is inclusive.
  • We continue to remove or amend forms that are too lengthy or unhelpful, working with parent carer voice and SENCo working parties to ensure paperwork is a tool for support, not a barrier.
  • Clearer processes for all stages of the EYGA, working with other teams to streamline processes where possible.
  • All emails have a one stop link to ensure all forms can be accessed easily.
  • We will work with LA and health staff to understand and know how their roles interlink.
  • We will continue to sense check data: making time to sit with data management input staff and cross referencing it.
  • We will continue to be self-reflective and open to challenging and critical friends.
  • Additional capacity has allowed the EY SEND Manager to do more strategic work and this will continue as additional roles have been made permanent.
  • Ensuring that, as a team, we continually ask how we can do better.
  • Partnership working with the paediatricians has led to pre-school notifications for children not meeting ASD criteria but who are considered to need SEMH intervention. We will continue to monitor and evolve this approach.

Lessons learned

  • We quickly learned that to plan for the future we need to have a robust method of tracking and prediction – this is something that we have implemented and continues to support our planning.
  • Implementing large scale projects like the Early Years Assessment Base has highlighted lessons to learn around:
    • Action planning, the recording of those actions and the follow up accountability of those actions.
    • Pace and direction – clear solutions to challenges that are driven by a key working group with defined roles.
    • Having clear messages and training for those staff that need to be delivering those messages and ensuring that information is consistent and timely. In this situation: SEN Caseworkers, Portage, setting SENCOs.
    • The need to engage, at the appropriate time, all services that will need to support the project or offer expertise so that they can provide information, in this case: the NEF team, sufficiency, capital and planning, SEN caseworkers.
  • Communication is vital, as working in isolation leads to children being missed or receiving double support.
  • Clear, concise information is needed so that forms and processes are not barriers.
  • Working with professionals in settings is the best way to develop resources that they need to use.
  • Co-production is crucial and ensures we continue to keep the families we support at the centre of our work.

Contacts for the project:

Della Pascoe [email protected]

Emily Garner [email protected]