Early education and childcare

When children are aged between 0-5 years, they are said to be in their “early years”. The early years are an important time for all children because experiences early-on in life can have long-term effects on development. They can be especially crucial years for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). 

Explore the following sections to find out more:

Does my child has SEND?

During your child’s early years, you may not know whether they have SEND or not. Many parents have concerns about their child’s development. While most of the time it is just a normal part of growing up, you should highlight any worries you have with a health professional.

Health Visitors carry out development reviews when your child reaches 9 months and 2 years of age. These are designed to pick up on any early signs of disability or ill-health. It is important to attend these reviews even if you consider your child to be developing normally. For more information on the Health Visiting service, please click here.  

Your local children’s centre can also offer advice and support if you have concerns about your child’s development. Click here for more information on the role of children’s centres.

How do I get support for my child with SEND?

When a health professional identifies that a child (up to the age of 5 years) may have SEND, they must let the local authority know. This is called a Health Early Notification. The purpose of this is to ensure that the local authority knows about children with SEND who live in their area, so they can help the family access any appropriate support and services that may be helpful to them. For more information about this, please click here.

Portage Home Learning is a home-visiting service available to children (aged 0-3 years) with a recognised need or disability. The service helps promote a child’s development through a whole-family approach, and by building on the child’s existing skills and abilities. You can find out more by clicking here.

What support will my child get from childcare providers?

Early years’ providers are legally required to support children with SEND. This is specified in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework which sets standards in a child’s care up to compulsory school age.

The EYFS requires that all children have the same opportunities in childcare - regardless of needs or disability. Providers must review each child’s learning and development and have procedures for identifying and supporting SEND. Summaries of these reviews must then be shared with the child’s parents/carers. 

Special Educational Needs and/or Disability Coordinator (SENDCO)

All nurseries and pre-schools must appoint a Special Educational Need and/or Disability Coordinator (SENDCO). This is someone who holds responsibility for supporting children with SEND. The SENDCO will advise colleagues about the best strategies to promote positive outcomes and will work to actively involve parents in this decision-making.

Childminders are also strongly encouraged to identify someone who can act as a SENDCO – this may be one SENDCO shared by several childminders.

Funding to support early years providers

Early years childcare providers can request additional funding to help support children with SEND in their care. These funding streams include:

  • Disability Access Fund - available for 3- and 4- year olds who receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and free universal or extended early education

  • Enhanced SEN Inclusion Fund (SENIF) - available for 3- and 4- year olds with a low level or emerging SEN who access free universal or extended early education OR 2-year olds who have signficant delays.

Regulation of early years providers

Ofsted is the regulator or early years childcare and carries out regular inspections to ensure providers meet the requirements for supporting children with SEND.    

For more details about what the local authority expects from childcare providers please click here.

How do I choose childcare for my child with SEND?

Good quality childcare is beneficial for all children. It plays an important role in development, allowing children to gain independence, mix with other children and learn new things.

There are several types of childcare provider and different families may find that different options work best for them. Most childcare providers can be categorised into one of the following:

  • Day Nursery
  • Nursery School
  • Childminder
  • Nanny
  • Babysitter
  • Playgroups
  • Before and After School Clubs

All parents have lots to consider when choosing a childcare provider that is right for them and their child. This may be particularly daunting when your child has SEND. We have produced a guide of useful things to think about when making your decision. It is recommended that you speak to and/or visit the childcare provider to get a sense of the provision they can offer for your child.

Please contact Westminster Family Information Service on  07971 625922 or [email protected] if you need further assistance to find childcare to meet your requirements.

Questions you could ask when looking for a nursery

For parents/carers of children who may have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), the following questions may be useful when choosing the right childcare provider: 

  1. What experience do you have of supporting children with additional needs?

  2. Do you have any specific qualifications for supporting children with SEND?

  3. Are your staff trained to give medication or to use specific equipment?

  4. Can I look around the building to see the rooms and outside play areas?

  5. Where will my child rest?

  6. Can you support my child’s dietary needs?

  7. What will my child be doing throughout day?

  8. How do you make your setting inclusive for children with SEND?

  9. How would you ensure inclusive interactions?

  10. Will my child be with a regular group of children? How old are they?

  11. How will you communicate with me about my child’s progress and needs?

  12. How does the setting manage during an emergency?

In the video below from the Coram Family and Childcare Trust, mum Jade talks about how excellent communication and small adaptations from her childcare provider helped her son, Preston, who has autism, to develop, learn new skills and engage with other children his own age. 

For more videos about childcare experiences from parents of children with SEND, as well as information and guidance on choosing the right provider, please visit the Coram Family and Childcare Trust page.

For information on local providers and services for families, children and young people with SEND, visit: SEND Local Offer | Westminster.

Specific questions for a childminder

If you are thinking about using a childminder to help look after you child, you may find it useful to ask them the following questions:

  1. Do you currently have any vacancies?
  2. How long have you beeb childminding?
  3. What extra training have you done?
  4. What other children do you care for, and how old are they?
  5. Are you an inclusive setting and what particular knowledge and expertise do you have to enable you to care for children with SEND?
  6. Can you supply me with references from other parents?
  7. Do you charge for sick days and holidays?
  8. Have you got a copy of your policies or a prospectus?
  9. Do you have a copy of your latest Ofsted Inspection Report?
  10. Which rooms do you use for childminding? Pleasde may I be shown around?
  11. Where will my child sleep?
  12. How do you spend the day and how will the other children’s schedules fit in with my child? What outings and experiences do you offer the children?
  13. Do you provide properly-fitted car seats?
  14. What kind of meals and drinks do you provide?
  15. Do you keep a file about a child’s progress?
  16. Do you offer a settling-in period?

Also please remember:

  • Look to see the childminder’s up-to-date registration/approval, public liability insurance and first aid certificates on display.
  • Check all rooms and the garden are registered and insured; otherwise your child will be excluded from those areas.
  • Ask how many other adults will be in the house.
  • Agree on feeding, learning, TV watching and discipline policies, etc.
  • It is very important to discuss the contract; it should cover hours, pay, sickness, holiday and bank holiday pay. Remember to keep the signed contract safe so you can refer to it in the future.
  • Ask whether the childminder can provide funded early education for 2, 3 and 4 year olds.
  • Ask whether they offer “blended provision” and will take your child to a local pre-school and pick them up afterwards if you choose to use this option when your child is old enough. (It is possible to share the funding between 2 settings).

Help with childcare costs

Childcare support is expanding, with significant changes coming to 30 hours free childcare in England and Universal Credit childcare offers in England, Scotland and Wales. Click here for more details. 

15 hours funded early education and childcare for 2 year olds

The term after your child turns 2, they may be eligible for 15 hours of funded early education for 38 weeks of the year (term time), if you are in receipt of certain benefits or your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), or receives Disability Living Allowance

For more information on current eligibility criteria and to apply, please click here.  

15 hours funded early education and childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds 

All 3 and 4 year old children the term after their 3rd birthday in England are entitled to free 15 hours early education and childcare (570 hours in total per academic year).   

For more information please click here.

30 hours funded early education and childcare for eligible 3 and 4 year olds 

Some children may also be entitled to an additional 15 hours of free childcare, otherwise known as the '30 Hours Childcare' or 'Extended Entitlement'. These additional 15 hours are exclusively for working families that meet the eligibility criteria.

For more information about this offer, please click here.

Tax-Free Childcare 

If you’re a working parent or carer, you can get up to £500 every three months (up to £2,000 a year per child) to help with the costs of childcare. If your child has a disability, you can get up to £1,000 every three months (up to £4,000 a year per child). You can use it to pay for childcare including:

  • childminders,
  • nurseries and nannies’
  • playschemes,
  • before and after school clubs, and holiday clubs

Find out more and how to apply by visiting childcare choices.

Information for professionals and SENCOs

Early Years SEND Toolkit:

This is a document that gives you an overview of your roles and responsibilities regarding inclusive practice and supporting children with SEND. It also contains key information you need to be accessing in relation to making referrals and some practical tips and strategies.

Early Years SEND Audit:

This is a document that you can use to review your setting’s practice and identify strengths and areas for development. It is good evidence for OFSTED on how you evaluate your practice.

Your Early Years and Inclusion Advisor will be able to review this with you when they will be visiting your setting.

Speech and language videos

What we mean by Speech and Language development- PP1 video (9mins)

•       What do Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) do?

•       What do we mean by ‘speech and language development’?

•       Why are communication skills important for children?

Ages and Stages- PP2 video (11mins)
• What speech and language skills should I expect from children in my care?
• By  6 months
• By 18 months          
• By 1 year
• By 2 years
• By 3 years
• By 4 years
• Introduction to the Speech and Language Therapy Monitoring Tool

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Related Advice

  1. Choosing childcare for children with SEND
  2. Choosing a childcare provider
  3. Assessing Children with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities
  4. 2 year olds: 15 hours free early learning for eligible low-income families
  5. 15 hours free early education and childcare for every 3 and 4-year-old
  6. Pre-school health notifications
  7. Early years support in the home

Related Pages

  1. Family Hubs
  2. Early Education and Childcare information


  1. Early Years SEND Toolkit Final.pdf
  2. Early Years SEND Audit Final.pdf
  3. Starting school tips for Parents & Carers
  4. Reception Transition
  5. Early Years Transition
  6. Best Practice Principle
  7. Transition Template
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