Getting help for children under five with special educational needs

If your child is struggling with learning, the nursery or playgroup can offer extra support to meet their needs. The Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs gives guidance on different levels of support.

If your child isn't in an early years setting

If your child is not attending a nursery or other early years setting, you can talk to the Education Authority (EA) in your region. Their early years and childcare team can help you find suitable early years and childcare provision. Their Special Educational Needs Team can give you advice about special educational needs (SEN).

Getting help from the school

If you have concerns about your child's learning, arrange a meeting with their teacher or the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) at your child's nursery. If your child is not attending a nursery school, contact the EA in your region Special Education Needs Team for advice.

All publicly funded pre-schools and nurseries must take into account the 'Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs'. 

Early years action

If your child needs special help with their learning, the publically funded pre-school or nursery may provide help at stages 1 and 2 of the Code of Practice. Your child's teachers or SENCO will discuss your child's needs with you, assess their needs, and decide what help to give.

You should be asked about the help your child is given and its results. Help at Stages 1 and 2 could mean a different way of teaching certain things, or some help from an extra adult. This help, and the short-term targets for your child's learning, may be written down in a document called an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

Alternatively your child's progress may be recorded in the same way as it is for all other children. Your child's IEP is used as a planning and review 'tool' for their teachers and for you.

IEPs should set out:

  • what special help is being given
  • who will provide the help and how often
  • what help you can give your child at home

Stage 3

If your child does not make enough progress at Stages 1 and 2, their teacher or SENCO should talk to you about getting extra help from, for example, a specialist teacher or a speech therapist.

This help is called Stage 3. External specialists may start by making an assessment of what is needed. Specialists advise on the IEP and sometimes they teach or help your child directly.

If your child needs a large amount of help or extra resources, the EA in your region may agree to provide this through Stage 3 or decide to make a statutory assessment (often known simply as an 'assessment').

A statutory assessment  brings in a number of specialists to decide what extra help your child needs.

Special educational needs statutory assessment

The assessment finds out exactly what your child's needs are, and what special help they need. It is only necessary if your child's early years setting or school cannot provide all the help they need. It is carried out by the EA in your region and based on specialist advice.

You can ask for an assessment for your child and so can your child's nursery or school. If the nursery wants to ask the EA in your region to carry out an assessment, they should always talk to you first.

Special educational needs (SEN) statement

A statement of SEN sets out your child's needs and the help they should receive. It is reviewed annually to make sure that any extra support continues to meet your child's needs.

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