Shropshire Council

Spotlight On - SEN Team, Early years

I caught up with Sue Carroll, Early Years SEND Lead in the SEN team to find out more about what she does to help the very youngest children with SEND.

At what point do you start having contact with children? How does that come about?

We have health notifications from the health team, so, for example, paediatricians, health visitors or speech therapists will notify us of any child they think that may have a potential SEND and we record this on the system. This allows us to be aware of children who may have SEND.

We also attend the referral panel at the Shrewsbury Child Development Centre (CDC). Children are referred here by health professional after they have been through the health pathway to a paediatrician who completes a range of assessments to identify the possibility of SEND. This panel also receive information on children identified at birth or soon after as having complex needs. These children can be referred at a very, very young age, so sometimes below 12 months. These children are those who are identified at birth or soon after if for example, a child has Down syndrome or other complex needs, we are made aware of them, and they would be referred to the LINKS program. The links program is health led and there is a full assessment for children who are identified as having more complex needs and, here, a broad range of professionals will see children over several visits. They may also be referred to the Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin portage team to be considered for access to the portage play.


From the age of two to two and a half years of age, children may be referred for a developmental assessment by health, and different types are provided, according to the needs of the child.

There is a short assessment for children who are thought to have difficulty in only one area of their development or who need a check on their development for medical reasons.

Parents are encouraged to contribute to the assessments as their knowledge of the child is much valued. The assessment will also help to decide whether the child requires any support in their future educational provision.

When we are aware of children and they are accessing an early years setting we may be involved with supporting the setting to meet need.

The next time we become involved is at the assessment stages when all information is collated, and children are seen by a range of professionals including an Educational Psychologist (EP). We join the professionals meeting and the parental feedback.

Early years settings

Some children may be picked up through the two-year-old checks from health visitors, but in general, a majority are picked up at our early years settings who may have raised concerns with us as early years SEND and we signpost them to support the parents on to the right pathway. If a setting has a concern about a child, I ask them to raise it with parents, and then for the parents to speak to their health visitor or GP to ask for a paediatric assessment.

Any child who's not in an early year’s setting will be picked up by a referral to the paediatrician from a GP because parents may have concerns. I also have a few parents contact me before the child is 2 because they're they are working parents. Their child has been identified to have additional needs and they need support going into nursery.

As things currently stand, we as a local authority, will fund a child's additional support once a child is in receipt of their free entitlement to education. That can be at two years old when they get the 24U funding because of their disability or three-year-old funding. We have on occasion with some parents found some support to go into nursery settings to allow the child to return to nursery so that parents can return to work. That's not something we normally do though, because there's no identified funding for that. We try to make sure we're meeting the needs of those young people as soon as we possibly can with the right people involved. We have Portage and Sensory inclusion teams to provide support to our under 2’s.

So what is your role with nurseries?

We have two hats on. The local authority has a duty to ensure that nurseries are compliant, that they're inclusive and meet the statutory requirements for Ofsted, the Code of Practice and Disability Discrimination Act and that they offer good quality early education to meet the needs of children with SEND.

Within Shropshire, we support our settings as much as we can. They might request some support if they don't know how to support a child with SEND and are looking for some ideas and advice. We would look at what the setting may be struggling with and would give them some support, advice and guidance and signpost them where needed. We do this online with TEAMS, through the advice line and occasionally in person, but the setting MUST always have parental permission.

We do run SENCo forums and training for our early year’s settings. We recently ran a SEND review where a number of our settings took part. They looked at themselves internally to see how inclusive they were. That was a really positive experience for the settings. So, it's about supporting our settings and enabling them to support our children.

What are common issues that you encounter in your work.

Most common issues are around how we support settings when they're struggling to recruit and retain staff, creating staff shortages, which is a national issue. If they can't recruit staff, then we can't find placements for our children with SEND because often SEND children will require additional staff members.

Another common issue will be when a parent has gone to a setting and the setting has turned them away because they say they can't meet a child’s need. This is more to do with the national issue of staffing. It does however make parents think ‘nobody can look after my child because of their needs’, which is not the case. Appropriate information is not being shared with parents.

What can parents do to help?

I think if parents have a child with SEND and they are looking to identify a setting, and they get turned away from that setting, what they can do is go back and ask the setting, ‘can you signpost me to where I could go for advice and support? It's very hard because sometimes parents feel very isolated, and they don't know where turn.

The parents themselves can look on the SEND Local Offer or the Family Information Service for information on settings.

I want to give the parents a voice. Parents need to be confident that actually, a setting must not turn a child away because of the child's SEND needs. The code of practice and the Disability Discrimination Act says that. Parents might suggest that the setting get in touch with the early years team for support.

What can early years settings do to help?

Early years settings can ask themselves, ‘Can we look to signpost the parents better?’, rather than just close the door, or get in touch with the early years team to seek advice?

We would ask them to look at their inclusion policies, look at the code of practice and look at what their responsibilities are going forward. The majority of settings do not want to turn children away; they're almost backed into a corner because of staffing, but by getting some support and advice we may be able to help them.

What else do you want people to know?

We want to identify our children and ensure, appropriate support as early as possible, with the emphasis on trying to make improvements for that young person as soon as possible.

Our intention is to make a difference, we share with parents that we’re looking towards their child being an independent learner and being independent in their play as much as they possibly can be. That will look different in every child's case, by treating each as the individual they are it means we're doing what we want to do, which is to make a difference to that’s child’s life and skills helping them to become the best they can be.

We also want to give parents a voice. We will meet every parent when drafting an EHCP, we will go through that plan with them before we finalise because we like to have the parents voice in that plan. Parents need to be listened to because, this is their child, and they know their child the best.

Sometimes it's necessary for children to travel because they need specialist provision that we identify and that can only be delivered at one area. However, there is a high number of young people, no matter how complex their needs are, where their needs can be met locally with the right support.

Ultimately what we want to do is to try and build up our community of inclusive provision in local communities. So, if a child does need specialist provision, specialist is not a building, it's not a special school, it is provision that is delivered where the child is, in their local community. This will avoid young children having to travel too far.

So, one of our focuses will be around how we look to further develop specialist provision with our early year’s settings so that parents are confident that their child’s needs can be met. Specialist provision the child requires is provision, where it's delivered should not matter as long as it is the right specialist provision to meet the child needs.