Free article: Early years, SEN and inspection

Published: Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework sets out requirements for the education and care of all children in early years settings.Christine Newton examines the framework and Ofsted inspection requirements, and looks at the implications for children who have special educational needs and disabilities.


  • The revised EYFS framework –basic principles and key requirements.
  • Assessment and progress checks of children, including those with SEN.
  • Ofsted inspection requirements.

All staff in early years settings need to have the knowledge and understanding of special educational needs in order to provide an inclusive education for all the children. In the early years children are developing rapidly. EYFS guidance document Development matters aims to help adults understand and support each individual childs development pathway.

Inclusion means the child feels he or she belongs in the setting. Inclusion is being able to identify the child’s unique needs, break down the barriers to participation and narrow the achievement gap. The key to this is early intervention. Some children will have identified SEN and have the specialised support they need, but for other children additional needs might not be apparent. It is these children who need to be identified and supported as soon as possible.

The revised EYFS

The revised EYFS framework is mandatory from September 2012. This sets the care standards and promotes teaching and learning to ensure all children:

  • learn and develop well
  • are healthy and safe
  • are ready for school
  • have the right foundation for good future
  • progress through school and life.

The revised EYFS:

  • simplifies bureaucracy and assessment of children’s development at age five
  • emphasises the three prime areas for healthy development and behaviour for learning:
    • communication and language
    • physical development
    • personal, social and emotional development.
  • introduces a new progress check at age two to identify any areas of concern early; this will link with the Healthy Child review carried out by health visitors, so that children get any additional support they need before they start school
  • promotes stronger partnerships between professionals and parents to work together to support each child.

Practitioners working with the youngest children are expected to focus on the three prime areas. Children need skills in communication and language, physical movement and fine manipulation, and personal, social and emotional skills to learn effectively. These three prime areas enable children to be ready for school at age five. They prepare children for learning in the four specific areas of literacy, mathematics, knowledge and understanding of the world and expressive arts and design.

Assessment of a child’s progress in the revised EYFS

Throughout the early years, practitioners observe children’s development and plan effective activities based on the assessment of the child’s skills, development needs and interests. If a child’s progress in the prime areas of learning gives cause for concern, their key person must discuss this with the child’s parents/carers and agree how best to support the child.

Practitioners must consider whether a child may have a special educational need or disability that requires specialist support. The SENCo should work with families to access the relevant services from other agencies.

Early intervention is key to helping children make progress. Observations should focus on what the child can do and their development at that moment. Parents of children who have profound and complex needs are experts in understanding their child’s development. They should be included in the review of the child’s needs. It may be appropriate to invite other professionals working directly with the child, for example portage home visitors to jointly plan for the child’s future support.

Two year progress check to identify any SEN

The progress check at two years is to identify the child’s strengths and areas where their progress is less than expected. The key person provides a short written summary for parents. If there are concerns or an identified special educational need or disability, practitioners should develop a targeted plan to support the child’s future learning and development. They must involve parents and appropriate professionals, such as the SENCo. The progress check is based on regular observations of the child and should inform the Healthy Child Programme health and development review carried out by the health visitor. (For a guide to the progress check, see the Information box on page 11.)

EYFS Profile – the summative assessment at age five

An EYFS Profile must be completed for all children at the end of Foundation Stage, including children with special educational needs or disabilities. It shows a child’s progress towards achieving the early learning goals. Reasonable adjustments must be made to the assessment process for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Settings may need to seek specialist assistance, for example from educational psychologists, to help with the profile. Children will have differing levels of skills and abilities across the EYFS Profile and it is important that there is a full assessment of all areas of their development, to inform plans for future learning and to identify any additional support needs.

EY and Ofsted inspection requirements

The central question Ofsted asks is: what difference is this childcare setting making to the learning, development and progress of the children?

Inspectors will assess how well practitioners deliver the EYFS, and how the children are helped to make progress towards the early learning goals. Inspectors will judge the overall quality and standards of the early years provision, taking into account three key judgements:

  • how well the early years provision meets the needs of the range of children who attend
  • the contribution of the early years provision to children’s well-being
  • the leadership and management of the early years provision.

All staff need to understand and implement the requirements of the EYFS, including learning and development and safeguarding and welfare requirements, so that children receive a high standard of care and early education.

Ofsted’s self-evaluation form has been updated and simplified. Staff should think about how to identify and explain the rate of progress that the individual children are making towards the early learning goals. It is important to monitor the progress for each child relative to their starting points to ensure they have the best opportunities to learn effectively. Doing this helps to identify whether the planned educational programmes have sufficient depth, breadth and challenge, and fully meet the needs, aptitudes and interests of individual children.

Parents, other providers and professionals

Where children need additional help, staff should work with parents and other professionals to make sure children receive this help. Settings need to provide evidence of how they do this. Key persons should seek information from parents about what their child can do when they first start. They should continue to work with parents to support the child’s learning at home.

Shared knowledge and advice enables practitioners to provide the best possible learning opportunities for the child. Settings need to demonstrate how they work with parents and other professionals to provide the best start for the children.


There will be less emphasis on paper work and more on the practitioner’s interactions with the children. Inspectors expect to see how the staff meet the development and learning needs of individual children, and how children are supported in their learning and helped to be ready to start school. The focus will be on the child’s learning and their personal and emotional development.

There will be opportunities for dual inspections with the manager of the setting to focus on the understanding that practitioners have of the individual children. Evidence for the report will come from inspectors’ direct observations of the way children engage with their environment through play, exploration and active learning, and the way practitioners facilitate learning.

The Ofsted document Are you ready for your inspection? summarises the task: ‘All you need to do is provide high-quality care and early education for the children with whom you work.’

Further information


In order to download the following items in the Toolkit subscribe to Premium Plus:

  • Handout What the changes to EYFS mean for SEN provision
  • Checklist - Ten things for the SENCo to feed into EY self-evaluation

About the author

Christine Newton is a qualified nurse, midwife and health visitor with 17 years’ experience of teaching childcare in a further education college. a qualified nurse, midwife and health visitor with 17 years’ experience of teaching childcare in a further educatin college.

This article was first published in the January 2013 edition of SEN Leader magazine.