‘We need to urgently ramp up the investment into early years’!

Professor Adam Boddison, CEO, nasen
Friday, October 2, 2020

A commitment to getting it right for children with SEND must begin in the early years – and that means increasing investment, says nasen’s Adam Boddison.

'Targeted investment is needed,' says Adam Boddison.
'Targeted investment is needed,' says Adam Boddison.

While there may be debate about the age at which children should begin formal learning, there is a general consensus that effective provision in the early years is critical in ensuring that long term educational outcomes are a success.

As such, the fact that the early years is the least funded phase of our education system does not make sense.

The expectation that early years providers can put effective provision in place that meets the individual needs of all children on a budget that makes even a shoestring look generous, is illogical.

Early years professionals are working harder than ever before and with some real successes, but it is important that the wider system supports their efforts.

Children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) are disproportionately affected by the lack of financial investment into the early years. If resources are stretched, then SEND may not be identified as early as it could be and consequently provision is delayed being put into place.

Added to this is the further complexity of the similarity between SEND and normal variations in early childhood development, particularly for very young children.

So, what can be done to support children and young people in this essential educational phase?  

Targeted investment
With increased funding into the early years sector, significant savings could be made further on in the education system. In 2019, the National Audit Office published a report into SEND showing that almost all local authorities were overspending on the High Needs Funding block with the trend suggesting this would get worse.

Pressure could be relieved on high needs funding for schools through targeted investment in provision for young children with SEND.

In addition to funding, early years providers would also benefit from improved access to specialist expertise and resources. nasen, a charity that supports and champions those working with children with SEND and learning differences is doing its part by offering free membership to all early years professionals as well as making DfE-funded resources available to the sector at large from January 2021.

By opening access to its membership for free, nasen is seeking to break down the barriers that impact children’s participation in education, which is more critical now than ever before following the long period of social upheaval that all families and professionals have experienced this year.

SEND support for all settings
There are other targeted investments that government could commit to, which would help to develop SEND provision in the early years. The first is to fund every early years setting to have a qualified SENCO. The Department for Education does currently fund an accredited Level 3 SENCO qualification in some areas, but this programme should be scaled at pace so that all settings can benefit from it.

For childminders, access to SEND expertise can be even more difficult given the relatively small scale of their operations. Again, targeted investment to allow a realistic expansion of the remit of Area SENCOs, so they can offer support to childminders, is a concept worthy of further exploration.

For many early years settings, it is greater access to existing services that would make a tangible difference. Whether it be speech and language therapists, paediatric occupational therapists or other specialist expertise, increased resources would benefit all children, not just children with SEND.

An opportunity for change
Next year, the Government’s long-awaited Comprehensive Spending Review will take place. While it is likely to be dominated by the response to the global pandemic and to Brexit, it should not be forgotten that there are real people affected by the spending priorities that are set.

If we want children to be successful in life, then we need to invest in their education. A high-quality education does not start in school, it starts in the early years. So, if there is a real commitment to getting it right for children with SEND, then now is the time to show it by ramping up investment in the early years.

Find out more about nasen’s free membership here

For further information visit nasen or @nasen_org

Professor Adam Boddison is the chief executive of nasen – a charity that supports and champions those working with, and for, children and young people with SEND and learning differences. Follow Adam @AdamBoddison

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