Philippa Stobbs is Assistant Director at the Council for Disabled Children, which leads the EYSEND Partnership.

Young children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), their families and those working with them, have been among those most affected by the pandemic*. For the EYSEND Partnership, working with settings, parents, local authorities and services during the pandemic, the lessons we have learnt look and feel like those we might have learnt before the pandemic, but, as if under a magnifying glass, they all increase in size and significance:

We understand better the importance of working creatively with parents to respond to children’s needs, exploring with parents what is working for their child and what is not. This relies on open conversations with parents from their very first visit – conversations that build trust that information they share will be used to support their child and make their child feel welcome.

We have seen the benefit of support to families in developing the home learning environment, its effectiveness in promoting children’s early development, deepening bonds within families, and developing a shared approach between home and setting. 

We have learnt the importance of communication and that children who don’t have well developed language often communicate by what they do, that is, their behaviour. The challenge is working out what that child is communicating through that behaviour: Does it mean they are very excited? Does it mean they are unhappy, or even in pain? Developing the language to communicate those feelings is key for young children’s learning and the development of self-regulation, but also key for us in understanding where children are in their learning, so we can plan next steps.

A whole setting approach is important to exploring and meeting children’s needs. This isn’t about an individual practitioner on their own, but a collaborative approach within a setting and sometimes beyond, working with others to try different approaches, observe children’s responses, and develop curiosity about where children are in their learning. This helps us to decide what to do next and gives us more information to share with others if we need to seek advice, or when a child moves on into school.

And that transition into school? Over two summers where opportunities for joint working were difficult or diminished, we have learnt the importance of re-establishing, restoring and revitalising all the relationships that enable us to share information early and to plan collaboratively for successful transition, for all young children, yes, but, looked at through that magnifying glass, for young children with SEND in particular. 

So where do responsibilities for young children with SEND sit? They sit with everyone: practitioners, providers, parents, local authorities, specialist services across education, health and social care and the schools that they move into. And the SEND Code of Practice requires us all to work together to ensure children’s needs are met.

We have seen the importance of this collaborative work, both within settings and across local areas. It is a privilege to see, even in challenging circumstances, really inspiring work to improve access, inclusion and, ultimately, outcomes for young children with SEN and disabilities.

*Ofsted annual report 2020-21, found that children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) had additional barriers to overcome as many were unable to access the support they rely on.

The EYSEND Partnership is led by the Council for Disabled Children and brings together seven organisations who each bring a particular specialist expertise to working with settings, providers, local authorities and services. The Partnership has developed some brilliant resources, and there is still some training available. For more information, contact [email protected] or sign up for the EYSEND Partnership newsletter here.