Education in a formal sense is generally seen as starting from the age of two or two and a half. This section will look at mainstream and specialist education for pre-school children.
Most children with special needs under two will have all their educational needs met in the nurseries and playgroups available for all very young children. But if your child has significant needs that have already been picked up on, they may well also access pre-school education in a specialist setting.
Some very young children will attend therapy groups at the Seaside View Child Development Centre, or your child may be referred to the Pre-school Special Educational Needs Service (PRESENS). If your child has a hearing or visual impairment, the Sensory Needs Service will be involved from their very early years.
All playgroups and nurseries should welcome children with special needs but their atmosphere, experience and facilities vary. You will need to visit a few and think about what will suit your child. Children are entitled to free part-time early education (15 hours a week over 38 weeks of the year) from the term after their third birthday until the term in which they turn five and in some cases a year earlier (ask the FIS for help). Childcare Inclusion Funding can help cover the additional costs of settling a child with special needs into a nursery or with another childcare provider. It can be used for extra staffing costs, to buy special equipment or make adaptations to the premises.
For information about Childcare Inclusion Funding, the childcare provider or parent/carer should contact the Family Information Service. If you are in contact with PRESENS, you could also ask them for advice about playgroups and nurseries funding. Download Amaze’s fact sheet Choosing Childcare for more information.
The Pre-school Special Educational Needs Service (PRESENS) is part of Brighton & Hove Children’s Services and is based at the Jeanne Saunders Centre in Hove and Easthill Park in Portslade. PRESENS works in two ways. It has a general role in helping pre-school settings all over the city to work well with children with additional needs. Every nursery, play group or pre-school in Brighton and Hove has a named member of PRESENS staff to give them support and advice. If you are worried about how your child is getting on, one thing their pre-school could do is ask this PRESENS worker for advice about what to try next. PRESENS’ other role is providing support to individual pre-school children with special educational needs. This may include visiting you at home, but is mostly about helping the pre-school work out how best to support your child and doing some direct work with your child there. Some children also get on-site provision at PRESENS.
For any individual support from PRESENS, your child needs to be referred to them and accepted on their caseload. You or a professional involved with your child can make this referral and a panel will decide if PRESENS should take them on. If so, a package of support will be offered, which will be flexible and depend on your child’s individual needs. These usually start around the age of two or two and a half, and can include some of the following:
- support for your child in their pre-school setting;
- funding for additional support or equipment at their pre-school setting;
- teaching sessions at home;
- a two day a week assessment place at the Jeanne Saunders Centre or at Easthill Park House, for children in the year before they start school;
- transition support in their first term of Reception.
All PRESENS staff are qualified as teachers or nursery nurses and experienced in working with young children with SEND. They will watch and join your child at play, talk with you about their progress and also gather information from other people working with your child. They will then be able to assess your child’s needs and draw up a plan with targets for important areas for learning. This plan will be reviewed regularly and the PRESENS worker will support your child and the adults that work with them. Parents should always be involved. Most pre-schoolers with SEN are supported in this way by the PRESENS Offsite Team.
For the year before they start school, some children (18 each year) get a place at a specialist assessment and intervention nursery run by the PRESENS Onsite Team. This means they will go two days a week during term-time to either the Jeanne Saunders Centre or Easthill Park House. PRESENS can also support them in their nursery or playgroup during the remaining days of the week. The teachers and nursery nurses work in partnership with parents and carers throughout the year, plus there will be input from an educational psychologist and speech and language therapist.
Some of the children PRESENS work with may be put forward for a statutory assessment to get an EHC Plan (sometimes called EHCP). The teachers and nursery nurses will discuss this with you and in most instances will submit the paperwork to begin the process. Parents can also request statutory assessment themselves. If you really feel your child may need an EHC Plan in time for starting school, you will want to be sure the process starts in good time. Read more about EHC Assessments and Plans.
If you feel your child would find it difficult to benefit from an ordinary pre-school, you may want to look into a more specialist early years setting.
ICAN is a specialist nursery class based at Carden Primary School for children with significant speech and language difficulties. Referrals are made through PRESENS and the speech and language therapy team. This a one year placement and children attend five sessions a week for the year before they are due to start school. The aim is to boost children’s language so they are ready to join a mainstream school reception class.
For children with physical disabilities there are some options outside the city. The LA would have to agree to pay for your child to go to these, but this does sometimes happen for children with particularly specialist needs. Chailey Heritage School, near Lewes, has a pre-school class that caters for children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, especially when combined with additional medical needs. Ingfield Manor School at Billingshurst in West Sussex has a pre-school and assessment service for children with physical disabilities and associated learning problems. The pre-school provides conductive education incorporating the early years’ curriculum.
Local Children’s Centres often offer special groups or drop-in sessions for parents and children with special needs. For example, Roundabout Children’s Centre in Whitehawk has a weekly group called Sparkle for families with additional needs. Find out more about Brighton and Hove Children’s Centres.
Some groups of parents have come together to run their own groups for parents and under fives with special needs. They are more informal than a playgroup and are a great chance for you to be with other parents and for your child to meet other disabled children. Kaleidoscope is a group for parents with under fives with physical disabilities. Sweet Peas and Little Darlings are groups for parents and children with any special need. Find out more about Parent Support Groups.
This local charity offers free conductive education groups in Hove for children with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities, with an emphasis on fun and developing independence. Their School for Parents provides weekly sessions for parents and under fives. The sessions are planned with activities to promote all aspects of the child’s development and are very hands-on for parents, so you can carry it over into daily life at home too. Find out more about Whoopsadaisy.
The Dame Vera Lynn School for Parents
Based at Ingfield Manor School in West Sussex, their School for Parents is also for families of young children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. Parents and children learn daily living skills together using the principles and practice of conductive education. The service is free for children from birth to five years. The ethos of School for Parents is active learning through play. Children learn alongside their parents using guidelines from the early years curriculum incorporated within the holistic practice of conductive education. Find out more about Ingfield Manor School.