Influences on SENCo practice in early care and education settings in England

Full reference
Richards, H. (2021). Influences on SENCo practice in early care and education settings in England.  NZ – International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 23(1), pp. 24 - 38.

Page 24

Original Research Paper

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Influences on SENCo practice in early care and education settings in England

Hazel Richards
United Kingdom


Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) play a key role in the identification of additional learning needs. Improved progress and potential for children with these needs is linked to early recognition and support. In England, early care and education (ECE) provision exists in a context of conflicting priorities, including differences in setting, culture, resources, experience, knowledge, skill and agreements with outside agencies. This presents challenges for SENCos who must navigate and secure support within this context.

This article presents findings obtained from qualitative data collected from participants working in ECE settings to investigate their experience of implementing Education and Health Care Plans. Data were analysed using a bio-ecological framework to reveal key influences perceived to make a positive difference in practice. These influences were routine collection of evidence; robustly held knowledge of developmental norms; introducing the possibility of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND); resources; and contact with children and families.

Key words: SENCo, bio-ecological framework, developmental norms, additional learning needs, early intervention.



In England, early care and education (ECE) settings must have an identified Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), whose role is to co-ordinate the identification, assessment, and provision of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This includes the implementation of Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs), which are legal documents setting out the support needed by children with complex SEND. These plans aim to prioritise early assessment, identification, and intervention for children with SEND, provide person-centred care, focus on the outcomes the individual would like to achieve, and provide access to support from integrated education, health, and social care services.

Early childhood education makes a critical contribution to the development of all children by helping to create positive future outcomes, and it is well recognised that addressing primary difficulties early results in better success and can prevent secondary difficulties arising. However, the ECE sector has experienced cutbacks, including to Health Visitor and development checks (Griggs & Bussard, 2017), meaning the early and regular contact ECE settings have with children in this age-phase place SENCos in this sector in a crucial position. However, contradictions exist. Whilst SENCos have been identified as “agents of change” (Van de Putte, De Shauwer, Van Hove & Davies, 2017) “responsibilised” (Hellawell, 2017.p. 5) with securing and developing provision for children with SEND, the low status of SENCos in this sector (Roberts-Holmes, 2013) has implications for how SENCo’s accomplish this.


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