On October 27th 2023, the Government announced regulatory changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) after a national consultation. Dingley’s Promise were involved in the consultation, highlighting the need to consider the impact of proposed changes on children with SEND in the early years, both individually and as a member of groups such as the Special Education Consortium.
The wide-ranging consultation included two proposals that concerned us greatly – the reductions to the number of Level 2 qualified practitioners, and the removal of qualification requirements outside of peak times. Research shows that the quality of provision – not the hours in a setting – is what gives children the best start, and for children with SEND this is especially important. With settings reporting they are already struggling to cope with the rising numbers of children with SEND, these proposals would have likely seen a further increase in exclusions, and so we welcome this news and recognise that the Government are listening to and acting on these important concerns.
On the same day, the Government has also released its report on the impact of the 2021 changes to the EYFS, which recognises that while the changes have led to improvements in the quality of early years provision, there are real concerns about the unintended impact this has had on provision for children with SEND. We are working with the Department for Education on new guidance for settings and local authorities around assessment of children with SEND. Since the changes and the focus on reducing tracking of child development, the gap between the amount of paper work for children with SEND and their peers has grown significantly. As the early years sector struggles with a recruitment and retention crisis, this can lead to children with SEND being turned away from settings because of a lack of staff to fill in time consuming paperwork. We now need to establish guidance on understanding and supporting the needs of children with SEND using formats that are used by settings and accepted by local authorities who make decisions on providing funding for those children. This should not take away from the EYFS 2021 focus on spending time to really understand the child rather than filling in paperwork, but must enable high quality early intervention.
In light of the progress on these important issues and the willingness of the Government to engage with the sector, we are hopeful that there will be significant improvements to early years inclusion for children with SEND in the coming months.