Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from MENCAP (EY 24)


  1.1  Mencap welcomes this timely inquiry into early years education within the context of policy developments promoting greater inclusion.

  1.2  Mencap supports the concept of inclusive education, which means that everyone, child or adult should have life-long access to education appropriate to their needs and potential. Access requires respect for the individual's way of learning and requires suitable curricula, methodologies, teaching materials (including information technologies) and teaching skills.

  1.3  Through its 95 offices and 450 Local Societies Mencap has substantial contact with parents and carers who are seeking the optimum early years education service for their child.

  1.4  Mencap provides a number of early years services for example Hawthorn Nursery in Leeds and works in partnership with LEAs to promote effective early identification and assessment procedures for children with special educational needs.

  1.5  Mencap services promote the role of parents as early educators and also support parents and carers during assessment and statementing processes. We have welcomed recent announcements to make Parent Partnership Services a statutory requirement.

  1.6  As an active member of the Special Educational Consortium Mencap is working to ensure that provision for children with SEN is better integrated into the planning process with clear guidance to all providers on SEN aspects.

  1.7  Mencap has welcomed the development of Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships and has worked with officials from the DfEE Childcare Unit to develop the Guidance to these Partnerships in respect of learning disabled children.

  1.8  An an LEA level there is a need to ensure that all components of the early years service are working in the same direction towards maximum inclusion. Mencap has some anecdotal evidence that as special school rolls fall some schools are offering nursery places to disabled children, often on an "assessment" basis. It is often then difficult for parents to believe that a mainstream school would be a more appropriate setting for their child.

  1.9  At a Government level there is a need for close collaboration between the DfEE and DoH in order to ensure holistic planning in the early years especially for children with complex health needs and multiple disabilities.


  2.1  The early years curriculum for all chidren needs to value diversity and difference. This emphasis would have a long-term impact on the self-esteem of learning disabled children.

  2.2  Mencap fully supports the government's commitment to raising standards in early years education but is concerned that formally defined Early Learning Goals will be inappropriate for young disabled children especially as we move towards a more inclusive education system.

  2.3  Learning outcomes in the early years need to be planned and agreed with parents and services need to offer advice to parents and carers on supporting learning in all settings.

  2.4  All early years services need to emphasise a "can do" approach rather than a pass/fail approach to curriculum development.

  2.5  The early years curriculum will need to be adapted and modified for some children and this requires skilled differentiation. Early years teachers may need regular access to specialist SEN advice and support.

  2.6  There is a need to recognise and resolve the tension between target setting and inclusion in early years settings.


  3.1  The way the early years curriculum is delivered needs to recognise individual differences in learning style.

  3.2  Early years providers need to ensure that the learning environment is both physically accessible and also contains positive images of disability.

  3.3  If inclusion is to mean taking part rather than merely being there then learning disabled children will need learning support that promotes their full participation.

  3.4  Some learning disabled children will need additional resources in order to achieve full participation, for example an enhanced sensory input.

  3.5  There is a need for the integration of education and therapeutic plans for individual children. This is especially the case for disabled children who receive education and care in more than one setting. This may require the input from a specialist SEN adviser as recommended in paragraph 4.6.

  3.6  Teaching staff and learning support staff need to have regular non-contact time to plan and evaluate their work together. This needs to include time to liaise and meet with the therapists working with individual children with SEN.


  4.1  All learning disabled children should have direct access to qualified early years teaching staff. Mencap's recent research (On a Wing and a Prayer) into learning support and inclusion highlighted a number of instances where children with severe learning disabilities had virtually no direct contact with qualified teachers.

  4.2  All staff in early years settings need to have received disability equality training.

  4.3  Early years teachers need to have access to SEN training.

  4.4  Early years teachers need training as well as on-going support in working in partnership with parents when SEN is being identified. Teachers need guidance on working with parents who may be experiencing a range of stresses. Of particular relevance is the need for support in acquiring the skills needed to share the results of baseline assessments with parents.

  4.5  Learning support staff need to be trained alongside teachers in methodologies that ensure that inclusion happens for all children.

  4.6  Learning support staff need to have access to a nationally recognised qualification.

  4.7  Teachers need to have access to specialist teachers or advisers who can provide practical and regular support to ensure effective curriculum differentiation and delivery.

  4.8  LEAs need to retain sufficient funds centrally to allow for the effective use of specialist support to early years settings. This should include funding to facilitate the use of expertise within special schools being made available to mainstream settings.

  4.9  Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs) have an important role to play in early years settings. It is crucial that all schools develop a whole school model of inclusion in order that SEN issues are not seen as the sole responsibility of SENCOs. There would be value in publishing an early years supplement to the 1997 SENCO Guide in order to support the role and work of SENCOs in the early years. There is also a need to provide sufficient non-contact time to allow for liaison with professionals from health and social services as well as the voluntary sector.


  5.1  Mencap supports the Special Educational Consortium's call for a clear framework to underpin the inspection of the SEN work of schools. This is especially the case for early years settings where there is a very wide diversity of providers.

  5.2  With the extended remit of OFSTED to cover all early years settings Mencap is concerned that early expertise developed by LEA and Social Services staff may be lost. This would particularly affect follow-up work between inspections.

  5.3  Many learning disabled children receive considerable input from playgroups and similar services. The skills of locally-based Inspection and Regulation staff will be lost under the new arrangements. These staff have had an important role to play in promoting standards in this area of provision. There may well be merit in reconsidering transitional arrangements to allow for the deployment of these skills alongside OFSTED personnel.

  5.4  With a plethora of early years initiatives there is an urgent need to evaluate the impact of these developments on children with SEN. The DfEE have commissioned research into the coverage of SEN issues in Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership Plans and Sure Start bids. There is however a need to check that the planned developments do indeed deliver high quality and inclusive provision for all children, including children with SEN.


  Department of Education and Employment 1997 The SENCO Guide.

  Mencap 1999. On a Wing and a Prayer; inclusion and children with severe learning difficulties.


January 2000

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