Early Years - A Graduated Approach - Guidance for Education Providers


Purpose of the document

This document provides guidance on the assessment and the provision of support, for children with special educational needs/delayed development, according to the SEND Code of Practice 2015. It is intended to provide clear advice and guidance for all early years providers, parents/ carers and professionals supporting a child with Special educational needs and disability/delayed development. This document will aid decisions regarding learners who may require enhanced support. The document sets out the vision for a graduated response.

National context

The SEND Code of practice 2015 states:

‘5.59 Local authorities must ensure that all providers delivering funded early education places meet the needs of children with SEN and disabled children. In order to do this local authorities should make sure funding arrangements for early education reflect the need to provide suitable support for these children.

5.60 Early years providers should consider how best to use their resources to support the progress of children with SEN.’

DfE Statutory Framework for Early Years Foundation stage (EYFS) 2014 states:

‘Equality of opportunity and anti-discriminatory practices, ensuring that every child is included and supported’

Local Context

This document and the appendix has been completed in partnership with Warrington's early years special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCO), Sandy Lane outreach Teacher, Local Offer Officer and Warrington Parents and Carers WARRpac.

Warrington is committed to the inclusion of children within their local early years settings, we encourage this by providing support, advice and guidance to the early years providers and promoting high quality provision and high aspiration for all children.

The local offer website ‘Ask Ollie’ provides early years providers and parents with information on what support is available. In Warrington a strong early help offer supports the early identification of children who may require further support, this is a priority in the Warrington SEND Strategy and Early Years Strategy.

Support for children aged 0-4 years who are not attending an early years setting

Children’s centres

Children can access support in one of our 6 Children’s Centres.  The groups that are offered in the centres are regularly reviewed to meet the needs of the communities.  Many of our Children’s Centre sessions are targeted towards improving children’s outcomes around speech language and communication, or personal, social and emotional development.  A Health Visitor or other professional might refer children into specific groups within the centre to support their ongoing development.  Referrals will be discussed with parents and consent will be gained through the Multi Agency Request for Service (MARS) form.

Further information can be found on ‘My life’ Warrington, including contact details and the centre timetables. https://warrington.fsd.org.uk/kb5/warrington/directory/advice.page?id=cMDnpHLpXLg

Early years SEND support (previously Portage)

Early years SEND support is a home visiting service for children under school age with special educational needs and disabilities, or a developmental delay.  In Warrington a child can be referred to the team if they are not accessing any early years provision.  A referral can be completed by a professional through a MARS form.  The team work with children who have a developmental delay in two areas, or a diagnosis/named condition.

The Early years SEND support worker will co-ordinate and refer to additional services to support the child and the family. They will work in partnership with other professionals including health, to ensure support is in place for the child and their family. The service supports when the child is not in an early years setting, although they can support to access an early years setting when the family feel the time is right. This can include looking around early years settings with the parents and liaising with the setting to ensure the correct support is in place for the child.  When a child is ready to transition from the service into nursery, the SEND support worker will plan and implement an enhanced transition that supports improved outcomes. 

Early years entitlement to childcare

Children aged 2 years old

Children aged 2 can sometimes access nursery provision through a funded 2 year old nursery place. Two year old funded childcare places are available to a limited number of children, from the first day of the new term, following their second birthday. The child would receive up to 15 hours early education per week at a private nursery, pre-school, maintained nursery school/class or accredited childminder in Warrington.  To check eligibility for the 2yr funding, please visit http://admissions.warrington.gov.uk/CitizenPortal 

A child will be entitled to the two year funding if they are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Certain criteria apply and currently the Universal Credit eligibility criteria for the two-year-old offer and early years pupil premium are subject to consultation.  For further information please contact ‘My life Warrington’ on 01925 443131, or your registered childcare provider.

If a child is not eligible for a funded 2 year placement, then parents would need to pay for their child to access childcare.

Children aged 3-4

15 hours early years entitlement

Three and four year olds are entitled to 15 hours early years education, over a minimum of 38 weeks - to a maximum of 570 hours over a year. This applies until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday).

This funding is payable to all 3 and 4 year old children regardless of parental income, from the term after the child’s third birthday.

30 hours Extended Entitlement for 3 & 4 year olds

From September 2017 the majority of working parents of three and four year olds became eligible for an additional 15 hours of childcare per week. You may have seen or heard it referred to as 30 hours free childcare.  The eligibility criteria can be found: https://warrington.fsd.org.uk/kb5/warrington/directory/service.page?id=0uJeTboJVPU&directorychannel=0.

If you would like further information, please contact the team at My life Warrington on 01925 443131

Graduated approach for children who are accessing nursery provision

Most children will attend early years provision and make good progress through accessing the support and inclusive education that is available for all children.  However some children will struggle to meet their early milestones and where progress is slow, the early years setting should follow a graduated approach to identifying and supporting special educational needs and disability SEND.

The SEND code of practice states that early years providers must follow the graduated approach to support children with special educational needs and disability, or a developmental delay.  Most children will make good progress and reach early learning goals but some children may need additional support to achieve their goals.  This will be identified through the graduated approach. Parent and child views should be included throughout the process and in partnership with parents the early years provider should gather evidence of the child’s development using the early years foundation stage (EYFS) (see diagram below).  

Continued here

Warrington Early Years SEND Graduated Approach Pathway

Personal Plans

If a child is not making progress in their learning the early years setting should work in partnership with parents and put in place personal plans as described in step 2 of Warrington’s graduated approach pathway. A personal plan should start with a child’s aspiration. This is an ambition, aim, hope that a parent/carer have for their child. All parents have hopes and ambitions for their children, it is helpful to start the planning process by talking about what a parent hopes can be achieved in the next few years. This might be something as simple as ‘I want my child to play with other children’ or ‘I want my child to go to a mainstream School with their friends’. The aspiration should then be broken down into a long term goal and small steps can be identified that help the child reach their goal.

Other professionals may also be working with the family and when setting long goals, practitioners should think about what strategies and priorities other professionals have shared and be guided by this.

Progress towards a goal needs to be reviewed at regular intervals. The long term goals should be written with a focus on Portage principles. A good goal will be achievable, but offer challenge. In order to set the goal at the correct level the practitioner and family will need to have a good understanding of the childs current level of development. Before you can plan the steps, you need to know what the child can do as their baseline, what will motivate them and what you want them to be doing in the future (please see appendix 4 for further guidance).

Early Help Assessments

As part of the graduated approach a child and family might benefit from an early help assessment and team around the family meeting as described in step 3 of Warrington’s graduated approach pathway.

The purpose of early help is to prevent issues from escalating by offering support at the right time. Any professional working with a family, such as those based in early years settings, health services, or in voluntary sector organisations, can offer early help services by responding to identified needs in order to offer advice, support and intervention. Early Help works best when it is offered to the whole family and when services are delivered jointly by professionals. The early help team can include Family outreach and your local children’s centres.

It is useful for an early years setting to complete an early help assessment EHA to explore what challenges the family are facing and to celebrate the strengths of the family unit. An EHA can improve the co-ordination of support for the child and family this will be achieved by a team around the family (TAF) meeting; these are beneficial as it ensures the child is at the centre, it will bring all professionals together to share information and take down any barriers to learning, including offering strategies to support. The early help assessment and TAF meetings promote multi agency working and co-ordinated support and ensures the child’s voice is heard and the whole family feels support.

A professional will take the lead and complete an Early Help Assessment (EHA). This is the tool used to identify and assess needs in families and can be used by any professional working with a family in Warrington. The assessment is completed in partnership with the family and a range of agencies, in order to create a package of support that meets the needs of the whole family. Please see the Early Help Section for more details.

Following the EHA being completed there will be a ‘team around the family meeting (TAF). This is to gather all professionals and parents together, look at what support is needed and put a plan in place. For further information please contact the Early Help Support team on the email below:


Support for Early Years Settings

Once the setting have put into place step 1, 2 and 3 of Warrington’s graduated approach pathway and identify that they need further support, they can access the SENCO surgeries and telephone mornings as listed below.


The early year’s provider is able to access training to support children with special educational needs and disability, or a developmental delay through ‘my early year’s services’ 

These include:

  • New to SENCO (termly)
  • Established SENCO (termly)
  • SENCO networks (termly)
  • Portage (termly)

The local authority provides additional training (sometimes at small cost) by identifying the training needs and gaining feedback from providers. This training will be advertised and available to book on my early years services. Early years providers are also invited to take part in projects with the early year’s team when the opportunity arises.

Telephone Sessions

From February 2019 the Area SENCO will be available on the telephone for one session every week to give general advice and guidance to the early years setting; these will not be for a named child.

The setting will be able to book a 30 minute telephone slot through ‘My early year’s services’. The setting must send any relevant information and what they have put into place to support so far to the Area SENCO dcartwright@warrington.gov.uk  five working days prior to the telephone appointment, so that the Area SENCO can familiarise themselves with the information. 

The telephone sessions will be piloted until the end of April 2019, feedback will then be gained and the process will be reviewed. Please see the dates below:

  • 5th February 8am-12pm
  • 11th February 12pm-4pm
  • 21st February 8am-12pm
  • 1st March 8am-12pm
  • 7th March 8am-12pm
  • 15th March 8am-12pm
  • 19th March 12pm-4pm
  • 25th March 8am-12pm
  • 2nd April 8am-12pm
  • 8th April 12pm-4pm
  • 18th April 8am-12pm
  • 26th April 8am-12pm

SEND Support Surgeries for Early Years Practitioners

As part of the support package for early years settings, from February 2019 there will be fortnightly surgeries. These will be 2 half days a month were practitioners from early years settings can come and speak to professionals including the Area SENCO, Portage officer and the Sandy lane outreach teacher.  They will be able to gain further advice on their applications for early years special educational needs and disability inclusion funding (EYSENDIF) and individual children.

Parents will need to have taken part in the application process and signed a MARS giving their consent. The MARS should be submitted with a tick against the inclusion funding panel section.  When the MARS form has been received, a member of the admin team will confirm with the setting their time slot via email. Please include all relevant paperwork as noted on the EYSENDIF checklist.

The setting will be asked to arrive 5 minutes before their time slot with a paper based version of their application. The professionals will then discuss the application with the setting and give advice about further information/evidence that they need to include. As the surgeries are once a fortnight this will give enough time for the setting to amend the application if needed and send the application in 2 weeks prior to the panel as requested. The surgeries will be based at Orford youth base and local children’s centres. Settings can also use their time slot through telephone contact, as with face to face they must ensure the relevant paperwork has been sent prior to their appointment. If a setting has attended the surgery, they will not need to complete a second MARS for the application to be sent to the inclusion funding panel. The setting will send any further information through anycoms (secure portal) to the EY SEND team.

The SEND surgeries will be piloted until the end of April 2019, feedback will then be gained and the process will be reviewed. Please see dates below for 2019 surgeries:

  • 8th February 8am-12 Great Sankey children’s centre
  • 19th February 12-4pm Orford youth base
  • 4th March 12-4pm Great Sankey children’s centre
  • 21st March 8am-12 Great Sankey children’s centre
  • 5th April 8am-12 Great Sankey children’s centre
  • 16th April 12-4pm Orford youth base
  • 29th April 8am-12 Great Sankey children’s centre


The Early year’s entitlements: operational guidance (2018) states ‘a requirement for local authorities to set up a local SEN inclusion fund (SENIF) to support providers to secure better outcomes for children with SEN.’

Following consultation with Early Years Providers, parents and professionals in Warrington, an inclusion fund is available in 2017-20 to ensure the early inclusion of children with emerging additional SEND across a range of settings. The support and intervention provided should be selected to meet the outcomes identified for the child, based on reliable evidence of effectiveness, and provided by practitioners with relevant skills and knowledge.


DAF funding

Three and 4-year olds will be eligible for the Disability Access Fund (DAF) if they are attending an early years setting that provides the free early education entitlement, and meet the following criteria:

•The child is in receipt of child Disability Living Allowance and;

•The child receives free early education.

The Disability access fund (DAF) of £615 is payable as a lump sum once a year per eligible child.  It aids access to early year’s places by supporting providers in making reasonable adjustments to their settings. If an eligible child is splitting their free entitlement across two or more providers, the parents will need to nominate the main setting where the local authority should make the DAF payment. This can be done by using the parent declaration form, please contact the Early years entitlement team on 01925 442983.

Providers will need to check that the child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and send evidence to the early year’s entitlement team, through the anycoms secure transfer system. Please see below for further information:

Disability Access Funding (DAF)



‘Transitions should be seen as a process not an event, and should be planned for and discussed with children and parents. Settings should communicate information which will secure continuity of experience for the child between settings.’ (Early Years Foundation Stage Practice Guidance, 2008)

When a child who has developmental delay/special educational needs and/or disability is due to start school the preparation should start in March/April, when the parent/guardian shares with the child’s current setting what school they will be attending. The setting should then make contact with the school to start the process. If the parent/guardian works in partnership with the current and new setting this will support a positive and effective transition. Part of this process may include the following:

  • The current setting may organise a planning meeting. The planning meeting should take place where the family feel most comfortable. The benefit of this meeting is that everyone is together, sharing information and putting a plan in place making the transition process as enjoyable and effective as possible.

  • With the parent/guardians’ permission they will share any documents (plans, assessments, or reports) with the new setting/school prior to the meeting, so that they can read and prepare any questions they may have.
  • The current setting should invite the school to come and meet the child prior to the meeting (please see meeting guidance for further information). The meeting should discuss the child’s strengths and areas where further support may be needed.

  • From the meeting an action plan will follow to ensure everything is in place for when the child starts school, e.g. additional training for staff, healthcare plans or resources. The meeting will also clarify everyone’s role in the process. The parent/guardian and child’s voice is of paramount importance throughout this process. The people who may be invited to the meeting will usually be the professionals involved e.g. physiotherapist, parent/guardian and anyone else they would like (e.g. family member) and the current and new settings key person/SENCOs.

  • The current setting may also prepare the child by completing activities within the setting. Please see the transitions document for further information (appendix 12).

The DFE Early Education and Childcare Statutory guidance for local authorities March 2017 states:

'The School Admissions Code requires admission authorities to provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday.  They must make it clear in their admission arrangements that, where they have offered a child a place at a school:

• The child is entitled to a full-time place in the September following their fourth birthday.

• The child’s parents can defer the date their child is admitted to school until later in the school year, but not beyond the point at which they reach compulsory school age and not beyond the beginning of the final term of the school year for which the offer was made: and

• Where the parents wish, the child may attend part-time until later in the school year, but not beyond the point at which they reach compulsory school age.’

There are many transitions throughout life, please see appendix 12 for further information to support child when moving early years settings, moving rooms, changes throughout the day and starting school. Included in the appendix is also a meeting guidance for parents and early years settings.

If a child has Special educational needs and disability, or a developmental delay but does not have an EHC plan, there are other ways the school can gain further support for a child.  This can be through a supported transition (see full transition documents for more information) and an early help assessment. Schools also have access to a notional SEND budget of £6000 to support a child. 

For more information on Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP)

The child is entitled to a full-time place in the September following their fourth birthday.

•             The child’s parents can defer the date their child is admitted to school until later in the school year, but not beyond the point at which they reach compulsory school age and not beyond the beginning of the final term of the school year for which the offer was made: and

•             Where the parents wish, the child may attend part-time until later in the school year, but not beyond the point at which they reach compulsory school age.’

Support for parents

Parents can access further support and guidance from ‘Warrington parents and carers’. This is a group who are the voice of children who may have SEND/developmental delay and their families in Warrington. Their aim is to raise issues and make sure they are listened to and acted upon. They are working to support and connect families in Warrington - both newly-diagnosed and existing. 

For more information cantact Warrington Parents and Carers (WarrPac)

The Warrington Play and Sensory Centre is a purpose-built activity centre for children and adults who have SEND/developmental delay. It has a number of different areas to facilitate play or relaxation. 

For more information conatct Warrington Play and Sensory Centre

Warrington SEND Information Advice and Support Service is a service available to parents/ carers of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities aged between 0- 25 years. The support and advice they provide is impartial, confidential and free. They will listen to concerns about special educational needs, disability, support and other educational queries. The service is statutory and is available to all Warrington parents, carers and young people. They aim to build partnerships between parents, carers, young people and the professionals they are involved with. They aim to empower those parents/carers of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities so that they can take an active and informed role in their child’s education and development. 

For more information contact SEND Information, Advice and Support Service

If a parent would like further information regarding the Early years foundation stage (EYFS), or would like to see if they should gain further support for their child’s development please see the link below for the ‘What to expect when’:


Appeals and Complaints

Appeals and complaints

As stated above the panel comes to a decision using specific criteria. There are a number of impartial professionals within the panel and they will need to come to an agreement regarding a decision. If a parent has a disagreement with a panel decision they must speak to their early years setting. If the early years setting does not agree with the outcome, they are able to appeal the decision within 14 working days by email to:

ariley@warrignton.gov.uk or dcartwright@warrington.gov.uk

We would encourage all parents to speak to their child’s early years settings in the first instance and if necessary follow their complaints policy (all early years providers must have a complaint policy and these should be available for you to request a copy). If a parent would like to access further support they may contact Iain Macdonald SENDIASS