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


Memorandum from the National Early Years Network (EY 79)

  I gave oral evidence as one of three witnesses for The National Early Years Network to the House of Commons Education and Employment Sub Committee in relation to its Early Years Enquiry on Wednesday 24 May. At this hearing we were advised that any additional evidence should be submitted in writing for consideration.

  I am now writing to draw attention to the apparent omission of issues relating to children with disablities and those with other forms of SEN. Although I gather it was not the intention of the committee to look at these issues specifically in the view of the National Early Years Network it would be anomalous if they were to be neglected all together.

  The DfEE's recent Programme for Action/SEN Bill and the 2000-2001 Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership's Planning Guidance both emphasise the Government's commitment to the inclusion of disabled children and those with other forms of SEN and Partnerships and LEA's are currently advised to demonstrate their commitment in policy and practice.

  The 1989 Children Act rightly locates the concerns of such children within the concerns of the wider child population and the widely quoted Warnock estimate of 20 per cent is likely to be conservative as many children have transient Special Educational needs that do not enter the statistics. In short we are referring to a significant section of the child population within the remit of the Sub Committee.

  In addition to the above mentioned legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act looks set to apply to educational provision which means that greater numbers of children with SEN and disabilities are likely to be entering mainstream early years settings in the coming years. I would like to take this opportunity to voice the following concerns on their behalf.

  There is currently no universal funding system for learning support assistants for children within early years settings. Provision of funds is patchy and depends on local policy, planning and infrastructure. In order to successfully promote inclusion at this crucial stage of children's development we desperately need an effective standardised funding mechanism in order to provide crucial learning support for individual placements.

  I would like to draw to the Sub Committee's attention to The Special Needs Referral Scheme funded jointly by the Welsh Office and local Social services departments which is widely regarded as successful and non stigmatising example of how the necessary support can be achieved. It employs scheme co-ordinators who:

    —  find suitable places;

    —  arrange and pay for helpers;

    —  provide equipment; and

    —  support parents and staff.

  Without the necessary infrastructure and support, placements are likely to be refused or fail on the grounds that staff cannot meet individual children's needs and comply with health and safety requirements. This situation is likely to worsen if the child/adult ratios recommended in the Children Act Guidance are altered.

  In the view of the National Early Years Network all staff should have access to SEN training and a basic level of underpinning skills, knowledge and understanding should be a mandatory requirement for training across the relevant sectors. This is not the case at present. Additional training should also be provided to support inclusion especially on Disability Awareness and Equality issues.

  We need a cohesive strategy to ensure that SEN policy is integrated interdepartmentally and throughout new initiatives at local and national level.

  The regulatory framework should also reflect concerns about equality of access and equality of opportunity for children with SEN.

  The interface between the Foundation Stage and Key Stage One needs attention so that children are not just faced with another set of hurdles having "failed" to reach the Early Learning Goals.

  Above all the differential costs of caring for and educating disabled children must be fully recognised.

  From a Children's Rights perspective it is crucial that we ensure the following:

Article Six—UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Children have a right to life and to the best possible chance to develop fully.

Article 23—UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Disabled children must be helped to be as independent as possible and to take a full and active part in everyday life.

  I trust that the above will be forwarded to the committee.

Mary Dickins, Training Development Officer
National Early Years Network

May 2000

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