How can we ensure children with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) can access their early years’ entitlements?

Catherine McLeod, CEO, Dingley’s Promise
30th May 2024

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The number of children with SEND is growing. At the same time, our sector is trying to deliver increased entitlements and settings are under pressure to support more children than ever. In this challenging situation, Dingley’s Promise research from winter 2023, found that one in five parents of a child with SEND has been turned away from a setting despite this breaching equality law – and this worrying pattern is worsening.

Settings tell us that they want to be fully inclusive and believe that children with SEND absolutely must get the best start in life alongside their peers. How then, can settings meet the needs that are growing among our youngest children? This article looks at the key barriers providers face and some solutions to overcome them. There are no easy answers, but as early years professionals we have such a critical role in the lives of young children with SEND and their families, it is our duty to strive for vital change.

 Lack of funding and time-consuming paperwork

Settings report that funding is difficult to access, and in most cases the process is slow. The Early Years Alliance found that 92% of settings had funded SEND costs themselves, a key reason for this being that securing the funding takes so long to access the setting is required to fund support in the meantime settings.


  • Make sure you know all the sources of funding available to your setting for children with SEND, and which funding stream is right for different needs.
  • Share funding sources with parents if their child needs specialist equipment or other additional support and they can apply directly.
  • Talk to your local authority team about training or support in accessing funding. If you understand what they are looking for in the application process you are more likely to secure funding quickly.
  • Watch out for the release of the new Department for Education Early Years SEND Assessment Toolkit, which will give you a recognised format for evidencing needs when applying for funding. This should be launched in early summer.

 Lack of specialists and long waiting lists

In many areas, settings are finding that even when they suspect a child has SEND the waiting lists for assessments are long. This is frustrating and leaves both practitioners and parents feeling as if time is being wasted.


  • Have a strong use of ‘the graduated approach’ in your setting – assess, plan, do and review continuously. When the specialists arrive, your work will give them an excellent basis for their input. In addition, it will reassure parents that their child is getting the right support as early as possible.
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Lack of staff and tight ratios

Our sector is in a recruitment and retention crisis, and many settings report that while they used to have enhanced ratios to support more children with SEND, they can no longer do that.


  • Take the emphasis off one-to-one adult support for children and instead focus on delivering high quality inclusive practice that benefits every child.
  • Apply for enhanced ratios with SENIF (SEN Inclusion Funding) funding rather than one-to-one adults to support children, as in most cases this is better for life outcomes.
  • Advertise for EYPs with SEND knowledge as many EYPs are passionate about SEND and this could attract different candidates than your usual adverts.


Lack of practitioner knowledge and confidence around SEND

Many settings report that they do not feel they have the knowledge to support children with SEND effectively, and due to the staffing crisis do not have time to put staff on time consuming training courses.


At Dingley’s Promise we are actively lobbying government to make changes that will reduce the barriers to inclusion and released our manifesto for early years inclusion ( in November 2023. We support children, families, settings, local authorities, and national government, and we will not stop until every child with SEND is able to access their entitlements in the same way other children can.

To find out more, and to join us in creating a national movement for inclusion, visit

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