The 15 most Googled questions about Early Years SENCo answered by experts

Googled Questions about SENCo

We carried out Google keyword research to discover the most popular questions around SENCo and asked our in-house experts*, Carly Smith and Jenn Rowbotham, to give their straight and honest answers:

What is the difference between SEND and SENCo?

SEND is an acronym for the term given to individuals with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. SENCo stands for Special Educational Needs Coordinator – this is the person, or people, that works with individuals and the families of people who are classed as SEND.

What is a SENCo in childcare?

In an Early Years setting, such as a nursery, a SENCo works closely with children and their families, along with other nursery staff and relevant outside agencies and specialists, to secure the very best support and outcomes for that child. This can include arranging specialist assessments and referrals, arranging onsite support, helping with an EHC process, supporting other staff and organising resources.

Why is SENCo important?

A SENCo is a person other staff can approach if they have concerns about a child. A SENCo has the knowledge, skills and understanding to be able to work with these children and their family’s specific needs and will take responsibility for delivering this support. What’s more, a SENCo can identify the special educational needs of a child and will know simple ways to support anyone who may be awaiting a referral or an assessment.

When does a SENCo get involved?

A SENCo is involved from the moment somebody raises a concern. This may come from parents/carers, staff or an outside agency. SENCos are also trained and experienced to pick up on signs of SEND themselves whilst working with children. The SENCo may then give advice, observe the child themselves, arrange to monitor, and contact the parents or carers to discuss these concerns and agree on next steps.

How to be a SENCo

A SENCo must have the ability to be empathetic and cannot be biased or make assumptions. To be SENCo you do not have to work directly with the child, so therefore must be able to delegate effectively to the other people caring for that child. Open-mindedness, patience, communication and tenacity are key to success in this role.

How can a SENCo help a child?

A SENCo can help children with SEND because they are specifically in place to provide support to give these children better outcomes. In an Early Years setting, a SENCo will make every effort to ensure as much support as possible is in place for when a child starts school.

Do SENCos work with parents?

A SENCo must always work in close partnership with parents and carers to provide effective and consistent care. A SENCo cannot take any actions or make referrals without the parent’s consent unless there is a safeguarding concern. Sometimes it can be more challenging for a SENCo to positively engage parents or carers with their child’s additional needs. Some parents or carers want to be involved immediately, whereas others may be more reluctant to acknowledge their child may need additional support, and it’s a SENCo’s priority to forge an open and honest and trusting relationship.

Do SENCos work with outside agencies?

Yes. This includes health visitors, paediatricians, inclusion officers, physiotherapists, and educational psychologists, to name a few. There are many people a SENCo must communicate with, and often a multi-agency approach is needed for one single child.

SENCo and Ofsted

A SENCo is part of the Early Years statutory framework, therefore it is mandatory. During an inspection, Ofsted looks at and asks questions about SEND provisions in an Early Years setting and may wish to look through files and supporting documents, and inspect how a nursery is working with individual children. If a child is receiving funding, the Ofsted inspector may wish to know how this money is being spent.

SENCo and safeguarding

Children with SEND are considered more vulnerable, so safeguarding is of huge importance. Any referrals a SENCo makes must have parental consent unless there is a safeguarding concern. For example, a child may have an issue or a need that is being neglected due to a parent refusing to give content. There may also be occurrences where a child’s additional needs are a result of abuse or neglect. If this is a concern for nursery staff and the SENCo, the appropriate safeguarding procedures must be followed.

Do all Early Years settings have a SENCo?

Early Years settings should have at least one SENCo. It is part of the statutory framework to have a designated SENCo. Childminders will have a designated SENCo in their local area.

Care providers are not required to hold formal/accredited qualifications to be a SENCo, and in some cases, training may consist of simply following a set of guidelines provided by local authorities. SENCo guidance or training provided by local authorities will vary from place to place. Some will supply general guidelines; others may provide hubs or online training where a SENCo can update their knowledge on a more regular basis.

What should a SENCo not do?

A SENCo mustn’t make assumptions and must understand that they are not expected to know the answer to every question, particularly as every child and family’s circumstances are unique, however, there is always someone else who can help with the answer – and it’s the SENCo’s job to find this answer.

Is SENCo qualification mandatory?

In a school, a qualification is mandatory, however, it is not in an Early Years setting, such as a day nursery. However, some SENCos believe it should be as the role is very broad, where they must deal with many types of special educational, physical and additional needs.

Can a SENCo diagnose dyslexia, ADHD and autism?

SENCos cannot diagnose any conditions, including dyslexia ADHD and autism, but can refer children for assessments based on the signs they are trained to look out for. 

A SENCo cannot tell a parent or carer that their child has a certain condition, they can only share their insights and concerns. A SENCo will work with parents or carers of that child to obtain their permission to start the appropriate referral processes. They will do this by speaking to a range of parties to obtain the relevant advice and support, including health visitors, paediatricians and GPs. Following a diagnosis, they will work with parents/carers and specialists to establish the correct programme of support for that child.

Can a SENCo help with speech?

Yes. SENCos work with speech and language therapists and other specialists to provide support. If there is a speech and language delay, there are actions and tasks a SENCo can put into place to give the carers working directly with children tactics to support them.

A SENCo will also support children that come into their setting who are already diagnosed or classed as SEND. They will start by establishing a relationship with the parents or carers to obtain and share information about who or what is already in place to support the child. The SENCo will then help to ensure the support is maintained and evolved as the child continues on their educational journey.

*About Carly Smith and Jenn Rowbotham

With more than 30 years of combined experience working in Early Years settings, culminating in Nursery Manager roles at leading day nurseries, both Carly and Jenn have also worked as SENCos for much of their careers before becoming skills coaches at Eden Training Solutions, which specialises in Early Years training.

During this time, they have worked with hundreds of pre-school-aged children and their families to achieve the best possible outcomes, whilst navigating the nuances of outside agencies, along with the different responses and personalities of the individuals they have been in place to help.

More recently, Carly and Jenn have been working on developing a SENCo qualification for Eden that layers real-life experience and professional insights with expert knowledge and skills. The training programme is designed to provide learners working in an Early Years role the key skills required to give young people with SEND the very best start in life. Discover more here.

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