Issue details

24/00061 - Early Years Review: Implementation of a revised model of Early Years Education in Kent.

Proposed decision


That the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services, approve the implementation of the five key recommendations and six key changes proposed during the public consultation into Early Years Education in Kent.


Reason for the decision


At the Children, Young People and Education Cabinet Committee on 16 January 2024, the findings of a review into the current strengths and challenges within the Early Years education sector in Kent were presented. At that time, the intention to undertake a public consultation on a revised model of universal, targeted and specialist support for Early Years settings and a new process to apply for Special Educational Needs Inclusion Funding (SENIF)  was shared.


An eight-week public consultation has been completed. Five  recommendations and six key changes  focused on addressing a lack of inclusive culture, disjointed services and bureaucratic processes identified within the review where shared for comment. These were:


Key Recommendations


  1. The Early Years education system needs a shift in culture towards one of greater inclusion and achievement for all children and specifically for those with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND)
  2. Improved leadership is needed with clear lines of responsibility and accountability as the Early Years education system is disjointed due to services being delivered across multiple partners (KCC, KCC commissioned partners, and Health)
  3. Any future model of Early Years education must place children and their families at the centre i.e. a child and family-centred approach.
  4. There is a need for greater alignment of Early Years services with more resources working directly with children, families and in settings with early education practitioners
  5. Improved communications are needed, with a single, reliable source of information available to families and professionals.


Key Changes


  1. Early Years and Childcare Service (EYCS) will move to a Link Worker model, providing universal support and removing the need for settings to self-refer to the service
  2. SENIF Practitioners to focus more on delivering targeted support within settings for individual children.
  3. Specialist Teachers from the Specialist Teaching and Learning Service will continue working in settings with individual children and groups of children identified as having similar needs. They will no longer be required to provide evidence of level of need as part of the SENIF process
  4. Specialist Nursery Intervention will continue to work with individual children but will provide support directly to children in their mainstream settings without the need for the child to attend a special school setting, as is (predominantly) the current model.
  5. The process to apply for SENIF will change and move away from settings being reliant on additional evidence provided by professionals.
  6. The model proposes a core offer of training available to settings and childminders that will be designed with input from settings themselves.


The responses to the consultations have been analysed and the recommendations identified regarding the implementation of this revised model are being bought for decision.


Background – Provide brief additional context


In November 2022, the Director of Education and SEND requested a comprehensive review of Early Years education in Kent. Findings of the review were presented to Children, Young People and Education Cabinet Committee on 16 January 2024.


At that time, the service stated its intention to undertake a public consultation on a new model of universal, targeted and specialist support for settings, including a new process to access Special Educational Needs Inclusion Funding (SENIF).


An eight week public consultation was launched on 11 March 2024 and ended on 5th May 2024 which sought views on five key recommendations identified as part of the review in response to key issues identified (lack of inclusive culture, a disjointed system and too much bureaucracy within the system) and on six proposals related to how a refreshed model of universal, targeted and specialist support could work in the future to address these issues.



Options (other options considered but discarded)


For each recommendation and proposal identified within the Public Consultation, the option to not implement the proposal was considered and dismissed.


All proposals and key changes presented for consultation received a majority of ‘agree’ responses when strongly, and ‘tend to agree’ responses where combined. Additional consideration was given to the proposed revised model for Specialist Nursery Intervention given the small majority of agree responses and the concerns raised. The two main concerns raised in relation to this model where that specialist nurseries would be closed and that some children cannot be supported in mainstream settings. Under the proposal however, children who require specialist support will be able to access this while in their mainstream settings and those children who require prolonged support in a specialist setting will still be able to access this.


How the proposed decision supports the Framing Kent's Future - Our Council Strategy 2022-2026


These actions will support Framing Kent’s Future through:


  • Priority 1: Levelling Up Kent and our commitment to maintain KCC’s strategic role in supporting schools in Kent to deliver accessible, high quality education provision for all families, specifically: Maintain improvement support services for all Kent schools, including maintained schools and academies, to maintain Kent’s high-quality education system.


  • Priority 4: New Models of Care and Support and our commitment is to support the most vulnerable children and families in our county, specifically in relation to responding to national policy changes on SEND provision, work with SEND families to rapidly improve the service provided to SEND children and work with mainstream schools so more can accept and meet the needs of children with SEND, increasing choice and proximity of school places.


While both above priorities apply directly to schools, it is reasonable to extend the application of these to the earliest years of children’s education provided through early years settings and childminders.


These actions will support Securing Kent’s Future by:

·         Supporting Objective 1 in bringing the budget back into balance through cost avoidance achieved by supporting more children in mainstream schools from the outset of their statutory education and avoiding the use of non-maintained independent special school placements. 

·         Further transforming the operating model of the Council (Objective 4). By making processes less time-consuming and bureaucratic we can free up our resource to focus on working directly with children and the providers that support them. A greater focus on understanding and demonstrating impact will enable more effective decision making about how and where to focus the use of resources.


Equalities implications


The Equalities Impact Assessment has been updated to reflect the feedback provided through the public consultation.


Key issues identified from the public consultation are:

·   children with English not their primary language need to be able to access services.

·   cultural issues meaning that parents do not want to acknowledge that their children have SEND.

·   impact on staff delivering Specialist Nursery Intervention if they need to move to an outreach model.


The following mitigating actions have been identified in relation to the above:

·   this will be considered in relation to Recommendation 5 which relates specifically to communication.

·   Key Change 1 proposes that Early Years and Childcare Service move to a link worker model will ensure that more robust universal practice is embedded within settings meaning that children with SEND can be identified earlier and discussions had with parents sooner.

·   Key Change 4 proposes the move to an outreach model. Each school will need to consider the individual needs of their staff in relation to implementing this model.


Data Protection implications


Data protection implications will be considered as part of the implementation of the revised model, specifically in relation to the development of referral pathways and funding applications processes.


Decision type: Key

Decision status: For Determination

Notice of proposed decision first published: 18/06/2024

Decision due: Not before 17th Jul 2024 by Cabinet Member for Education and Skills
Reason: To allow 28 day notice period required under Exeuctive Decision regulations

Lead member: Cabinet Member for Education and Skills

Lead director: Christine McInnes

Department: Education & Young People's Services

Contact: Christy Holden, Head of Children's Commissioning Email: or 03000 415356.


Public Consultation


The public consultation commenced on 11 March 2024 and ended on 5 May 2024. Significant engagement was undertaken prior to the consultation to both support the development of the proposals and to share these with a range of stakeholders. The consultation was promoted through established communication channels including Kent PACT, Early Years providers, The Education People,  Early Years and Childcare Service distribution lists, SEND Newsletter and social media.


Cabinet Committee Consultation


The proposed decision will be considered by the Children’s, Young People and Education Cabinet Committee on 9 July 2024.


Financial implications: Current spend on staffing resources and structures within the scope of this review totals approximately £8.6m. All spend is funded from the ring-fenced Dedicated Schools Grant provided by the Department of Education and not from wider council funding (i.e. General Fund). Any additional funds required to meet extra costs generated from additional demands (including from the extension of the free entitlement) is expected to be fully funded via grant in line with affordability.

Legal implications: The Childcare Act 2006 and Childcare Act 2016 place duties on English Local Authorities to secure sufficient and quality childcare for working parents, as described in the Early Education and Childcare Statutory guidance for local authorities 2023. The SEND Code of Practice (section 6.44) outlines the ‘graduated approach’ that all schools/settings should apply when considering how they will meet those needs. This also relates to the SEND Code of Practice section 6.58 – 6.62 which outlines the use of specialists to advise settings and schools on early identification of SEN and effective support and interventions.

Equalities implications: Please see detail above