The Special Educational Needs in Early Childhood

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The focus behind this piece of work is to show that all children have an opportunity to have an education no matter what their specific or additional need is. This is where inclusion falls in and shows that inclusion is not just about disabled children but it includes children who have different variety of additional and specific needs which will enable support that will be available to them. However it will also show them a sense of belonging if each child within the setting is supported and included in each activity that is planned. Within this essay it will critically analyse and evaluate the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Policy for the setting the practitioner is working within which will then lead onto writing a set of new guidelines for a new practitioner on how to implement an effective SEN Policy in the second half of this essay.

Throughout the years governments have passed a numerous legislations that underpin policies which are adhered to within the early years settings. A major approach for SEN was the Warnock Report (1978) which followed onto The Education Act 1981. This Act provided the basis of approaches to identifying children with SEN which allowed them to meet the needs of those children once their needs were identified. At this moment of time the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice 2001 which was an amendment to the SEN Code of Practice 1994 as well as the SEN and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001 are effective document guides which practitioners and other professionals follow for advice. The SEN Code of Practice 2001 highlights the government's commitment to early years education and in particular early assessment and intervention for children with a special or an additional need. The need as to why SEN policies are essential to all practitioners can be summarised by Mittler (2000:133) "Teachers need to be prepared to teach all children, and that this should be understood as both a personal and an institutional commitment". Therefore, settings must have a working SEN policy that is put into practice, the SEN Policy that is implemented should be followed by the SEN Code of Practice 2001 which shows guidelines of how to implement an effective and up to date working SEN Policy.

The SEN Policy includes the following sub headings which explain how the setting supports SEN within their primary school setting. It talks about how the school as a whole provide provision for children with SEN, which includes the SENCO, head teacher, governing body as well as other members of the staff. The role and responsibilities of the SENCO including the head teacher, how admissions arrangements are arranged, specialist provisions available, resources that are available as well as how the staff and the SENCO identify assess and review children's needs. It also stipulates the graduated response and so on. However a disadvantage to take into account is that the policy briefly mentions parental involvement in a section of the policy which doesn't give a thorough explanation on how the school interacts and involves parents within their children's educational needs. Within the policy the SENCOs name is mentioned which is a teacher from Year 6, the SENCOs role is varied as she has many responsibilities to handle to ensure that the children with SEN receive provision that will enable the children to develop their learning within.

However in provisions of the management of children with learning difficulties and disabilities, society has come along way. The children that were identified with such difficulties and needs were sent away to establishments at the beginning of the 20th century. Therefore since then attitudes and beliefs have changed and integration was introduced and considered as a step forward. Integration made it essential that the children fit in with mainstream schools alongside a mix of other children to enhance their self-esteem. Soan.S, (2005:16) emphasises that only in recent years has the philosophy of an 'inclusive' approach been adopted. Therefore vast importance is placed upon the early identification of SEN by government documents, as mentioned in the code of practice (2001:46), "The importance of early identification, assessment and provision for any child who may have special educational needs cannot be over-emphasised"

Early identification is the cornerstone of our strategy. (DfES, 2004, p.9)

For the child it enables them to be helped at the earliest possible opportunity to ensure that difficulties can be met with suitable plans of action. For certain impairments such as hearing it is imperative to identify early (Dockrell et al 2002, p.16).

For families, it ensures that they receive understanding and can be given advice on how best to help their child, as identification can have "social, psychological and financial effects on the family" (Bruce and Meggitt 1997, p.394). Indeed, 'Portage' is one such scheme, whereby practitioners go into the homes of pre-school children to give support to children and their families - see Appendix Three However, for families early identification is something of a lottery; Dockrell et al (2002, p.23) reports that there is geographical variation in needs being identified.

Politically, there are economic advantages; difficulties not addressed early, can snowball and become expensive to address later on. This is both in terms of schooling and economic productivity in later life. Feelings of underachievement can lead to disruptive behaviour that can soon spiral and become out of control (Jones 2004, p.23). Society therefore benefits as preventing behaviour disorders by way of early identification systems, is essential for a cohesive society when children become adults.

Early identification requires training and experience of assessment and developmental norms; mistakes can exacerbate difficulties. Early development does not always follow norms; what could just be a maturity issue, could be diagnosed incorrectly as SEN.

Some learning difficulties are detected more easily than others; disabilities at birth (or even before) can be medically detected and appropriate intervention can begin straight away. However, with other disabilities, diagnosis is more complex and often comes later in a child's life; difficulties of which practitioners need to be aware Although background knowledge is useful to inform approaches to teaching, Porter (2002, p.54) advises caution over focusing upon 'labels'; the child should be treated as an individual who has a SEN. The diagnosis of autism is currently increasing.

This has implications for the early years practitioner; they cannot be expected to diagnose disabilities or learning difficulties themselves. However, they have to be prepared to recognise when a child does not meet developmental norms and seek advice from other sources to ensure that their concerns are acted upon.

Yet, just how early should identifying needs take place? A study by Taggart et al (2006) into SEN and pre-schools, found that good quality provision, could prevent SEN from developing. This is instead of waiting until the primary phase for remediation of the 20% of children who consistently fail to meet standards. The study emphasised that observation schedules and identification systems were essential, across all sectors if children were to be helped.

Once a need is highlighted, settings are required to implement Early Years/School Action, dependant upon age range. This requires the setting to set specific targets or teaching strategies to enable the child to make progress. This information is then recorded within an Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.), which should be discussed with parents and the child.

If progress is not made then it may be necessary to move on to the next stage, Early Years/School Action Plus. At this stage advice from external agencies (speech therapists, educational psychologists etc) may be sought. The SENCO within the setting (person with responsibility for SEN) would help to liaise with all parties involved. I.E.P.'s should be periodically reviewed. If it is felt progress is not sufficient, the decision may be made to apply for a statutory assessment. If granted the statement would identify what additional provision needs to be made. Crowne (2003, p.25) argues that I.E.P.'s should inform planning for use within the group.

Criticisms of the system are the duration of time it takes to obtain a statement of SEN. In the Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage (2000) Margaret Hodge MP states:

The early years are critical in children's development. Children develop rapidly during this time - physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. (2000, p.2)

Within the policy the school have aims which clearly stipulate that the setting provides an inclusive education for all their students which is a warm and supportive environment for the children to have a good education in and enjoy themselves whilst learning. Inclusion is the process of taking necessary steps to ensure that every young person is given an equality of opportunity to develop socially such as being welcomed by and being able to participate within the life of their school and their community, to have an education, by enjoying and having fun with their learning and having the ability to develop as individuals and to enjoy community life with others. It is also a way of ensuring that every child matters regardless their individual needs and to recognise and value the uniqueness of every young person. All young people have the right to be accepted, to achieve and be valued for the contribution they make. It is also said that "when good inclusion is in place, the child who needs the inclusion does not stand out. The inclusive curriculum includes strong parental involvement, pupils making choices, and a lot of hands-on and heads-on involvement." (Dr Melissa Heston, Associate Professor of Education, University of Northern Iowa).

There can be many advantages of inclusion some of the following examples are stated which are, that it helps children develop socially with their peers who are able to help promote positive behaviour and to help all of the children at the school to love, appreciate and assist each other. It provides time for the regular education students to assist those who have impairments and gives them more understanding instead of making fun of them. Within inclusion everyone is granted an equal education as it helps the children who have special needs or additional needs to develop a sense of pride in their work as they will actually feel that they have accomplished something worthwhile. However there can also be disadvantages of inclusion is that special needs children who are placed in an inclusion setting which is not manageable become embarrassed and discouraged. Some children who have special educational needs or additional needs can be disruptive within the class and disturb others from their learning. There can also be a problem with bullying as this can affect the children's education which can lead to the children not wanting to come into school as they feel excluded from the others and different.

In conclusion, it is clear that progress has been made; every child no matter what learning difficulties they encounter can expect to be taught within an inclusive environment that is appropriate to meet their needs. Mainstream schools need to continually extend themselves, to become more aware and responsive to the needs of SEN pupils. They have to do this in order to cope with the forever widening scope of SEN pupils' demands and to ensure that SEN pupils continue to gain the benefits of remaining in a mainstream environment. Essentially the quality of education on offer, presented to parents through education performance tables, and how well it relates to an individual's needs is what matters most. Legislation has provided a framework to meet all children's needs, politically there is some catching up to do, in the way of providing equitable resources. If this is not achieved, it will be difficult for society to embrace the concept of 'inclusion', which is so greatly needed. Identifying SEN and meeting the needs of those children can be a difficult matter which is essential that all early years practitioners should receive up to date training and support, in order to fulfil this aim. Excellent identification systems and innovative teaching practices are essential for success.