Early Years Graduated Approach

Early Years Graduated Approach - Universal, Early Support, Targeted, Specialist - Assess, plan, do, review. Refer to specialist if a child has significant learning needs, complex health and medical needs.

There are two main documents shaping teaching and learning in early years. Firstly, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS,2017) and Special Educational Needs Code of Practice (SEND, 2015). Both documents precisely describe the role of the early years setting as a place where children’s learning and development is assessed, and progress reviewed regularly with parents.

The process of identification of special educational needs and disability may take different forms, such as identification of needs by General Practitioner (GP), health visitor (HV) or a childcare provider. Below there is outline of a process of early identification in early years settings.

Where a child appears to be behind expected levels, or where a child’s progress gives cause for concern, practitioners should consider all the information about the child’s learning and development from within and beyond the setting, from formal checks, from practitioner observations and from any more detailed assessment of the child’s needs. From within the setting practitioners should particularly consider information on a child’s progress in communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. Where any specialist advice has been sought from beyond the setting, this should also inform decisions about whether or not a child has SEN. All the information should be brought together with the observations of parents and considered with them. (EY Guide to 0-25 Code).

Types of need

The SEND Code of Practice describes 4 broad areas of need:

–Cognition and Learning

–Communication and Interaction

–Social, Emotional and Mental Health

–Sensory and Physical

The purpose of identification is to work out what action the educational setting needs to take, not to fit a child or young person into a category.

In practice, individual children or young people often have needs that cut across all these areas and their needs may change over time, in terms of both type and level. The support provided to an individual child or young person should always be based on a full understanding of their particular strengths and needs.


Download Assess, plan, do, review infographic

You can download the Assess, plan, do, review infographic here


“The approach recognises that there is a continuum of special educational needs and that, where necessary, increasing specialist expertise should be brought to bear on the difficulties that a child or young person may be experiencing”

(The SEND Code of Practice: 0-25 years)

Under the provisions of the Children and Families Act 2014, the designations of Early Years Action and Early Years Action Plus have been replaced by SEN support, a graduated approach to supporting children with SEN or disabilities


  • Universal inclusive practice     
  • First concerns and early identification
  • SEN Support in the Early Years
  • The role of the early years SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator)
  • How to involve parents and carers
  • Working with other professionals
  • EHC (education, health and care) needs assessments and plans, and
  • Transitions for children with SEN and disabilities

Download SEN and disability in the early years: A toolkit

You can download Council for Disabled Children SEN and disability in the early years: A toolkit here


The purpose of the Local Offer is to enable parents and young people to see more clearly what services are available for children with special educational needs and disabilities in their area, and how to access them.

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