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Trafford Early Years SEND Graduated Approach for Practitioners

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Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework and guidance

How to use the Graduated Approach to Early Years

The SEND Code of Practice states:

5.12 All early years providers are required to have arrangements in place to identify and support children with SEN or disabilities and to promote equality of opportunity for children in their care. These requirements are set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. The EYFS framework also requires practitioners to review children’s progress and share a summary with parents. In addition, the Early Years Outcomes is an aid for practitioners, including childminders, nurseries and others such as inspectors, to help them understand the outcomes they should be working towards.



All children are entitled to the support they need to achieve the best possible outcomes. What happens in the early years is crucial and this stage of learning and development has the most significant impact on a child’s future life chances.

With the right support, all children will make a successful transition into school and become confident individuals with a growing ability to communicate their own views and live fulfilling lives.

Trafford’s Graduated Approach to Early Years is for children up to the end of their reception year in school and it should be read alongside the main Trafford Graduated Approach aimed at school aged children.

Based around the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework and supporting documents, it aims to provide guidance on a clear approach to identifying and responding to children with SEND.

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework and guidance

The EYFS framework sets the standards that all early years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe.

It covers the education and care of all children up to the end of their reception year, setting out an inclusive approach which is designed to be responsive to individual needs. It is based around 4 guiding principles:

  • every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured .
  • children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships.
  • children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers.
  • children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates.

Within the EYFS, a child’s progress can regularly be monitored using professional judgements and checkpoints within Development Matters. What to expect in the EYFS is a guide which can be used to support practitioners making best-fit judgements about whether a child is showing typical development for their age, may be at risk of delay or is ahead for their age. It is a guide to typical development while recognising that children develop at their own rates and in their own ways.

In planning and guiding children’s activities, practitioners must reflect on the different ways that children learn and reflect these in their practice. Three characteristics of effective learning are:

  • playing and exploring - children investigate and experience things, and ‘have a go’.
  • active learning - children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements.
  • creating and thinking critically - children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.

Children who find it difficult to access the EYFS curriculum should be given lots of opportunities to develop which consider these characteristics. Guidance on how to do this is described in the Characteristics of Effective Learning section of Development Matters in the EYFS. These are the building blocks on which to build wider learning.

Parents/carers know their child best and have vital and unique knowledge about their child’s needs. The EYFS sets out how early years settings should work in partnership with parents/carers and involve them at every stage of their child’s development journey. This includes involving parents/carers in identifying needs, deciding outcomes, planning provision, reviewing progress and seeking expertise at whatever point it is needed.

Each child in the early years is assigned a key person who will help to make sure learning and care is tailored to meet the child’s individual needs, in close liaison with the child and their family. This person will have an oversight of the child’s programmes or interventions, with support from the Early Years SENCO. 


How to use the Graduated Approach to Early Years

The graduated approach is designed to help you decide on the levels of support and type of action to be put in place for children in your school or setting. The SEND Code of Practice recognises 4 broad areas of need. Individual children may have changing needs across one or more of these areas:


  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health
  • Sensory and/or physical needs


For each area of need, this guidance describes universal provision, SEN support and high level SEN support.


a)    Universal Provision


Using Development Matters in the EYFS, most children will be able to participate in a mainstream setting and make progress through high quality provision which includes effective differentiation, known as Inclusive Quality First Teaching (IQFT).

This means appropriately planned, quality experiences and provision, built on observations of children’s starting points and interests in order to develop their learning. Sensitive interactions are essential to support this.

Making higher quality teaching normally available to everyone in a school or setting is likely to mean that fewer children will require additional and different support.

Under the Equality Act 2010, schools and setting have to make reasonable adjustments to the environment and curriculum for any children who may need it. They also have an anticipatory duty to make general preparations in advance for children with SEND in their overall planning.

Rather than waiting until an individual child with additional needs is admitted, they should anticipate the potential needs of their future intake and prepare accordingly. Examples of this could include providing Signalong training for staff, developing visual timetables, providing spacious changing facilities.


Children who may be achieving at levels just below typical development will generally be identified by using universal assessment tools.  

Minor environmental and/or curriculum adaptations from within the school or setting’s own resources can form part of universal provision. Development Matters in the EYFS gives detailed guidance on what adults can do and provide to reduce barriers to inclusion.


If a child appears to not be at the expected levels, practitioners should particularly focus on the 3 prime areas of learning:


  • Communication and language
  • Physical development
  • Personal, social and emotional development


The What to expect in the EYFS guidance could be used alongside Development Matters checkpoints to establish a baseline and then monitor progress.


b)    SEN Support in Early Years


When a child appears not to be making progress either generally or in a specific aspect of learning, it may be necessary to present them with different opportunities or use alternative approaches to learning.

Difficulties that persist may indicate the need for a level of help above that usually available for all children in the school or setting. The child may need planned interventions to support them to meet the same level of learning as their peers.

Additional support from within the school or setting’s owns resources may be required.


It is important to remember that all children develop at varying rates, particularly in the early years. There will be many typically developing children who may not be at their chronological age level in some steps and this will not be a cause for concern.


Special consideration may need to be given to other factors which may be affecting child development but do not necessarily indicate a need for SEN Support. For example limited previous experiences, home circumstances, English as an additional language, refugee status, minor medical issues such as glue ear, looked after status and during periods of rehabilitation.


Discussion of age related development with parents/carers of children with SEND can be a sensitive topic. All conversations need to be conducted in a supportive and positive manner, with clear recorded evidence and assessments available to review.

Practitioners should focus on strengths in terms of what the child can do, as well as looking at any areas for development, and present any concerns within the context of the wide variation of children’s typical development in the early years.


In addition to the good practice outlined under universal provision, where there are significant concerns practitioners can assess a child’s developmental level by using the Early Years Development Journal alongside checkpoints. Progress should continue to be monitored at an individual level.


Advice and support is available to schools and settings through the SEN Advisory Service. Early years settings in the private, voluntary and independent sector can access support through the Early Years Area SENCO.


c)    High Level SEN Support in Early Years


This section of the guidance is for a very small number of children with the most severe and complex needs. These children may need additional support from within the school or setting’s own resources, together with extra short term support funded by the local authority.


This support may be from Trafford’s central support services such as SEN Advisory Service or Trafford Sensory Impairment Support Service (TSISS). To access these services you will need to complete the Trafford First Response online referral.


Schools and settings can also apply for a time-limited Early Years SEND grant for children who are accessing a funded early education place. Find out more about Trafford Early Years SEND Funding and how to apply.

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