Early Years (Ages 0-5)

Early years providers must have arrangements in place to support children with SEN (special educational needs) or disabilities. These arrangements should include a clear approach to identifying and responding to SEN. The benefits of early identification are widely recognised – identifying need at the earliest point, and then making effective provision, improves long-term outcomes for children.

Click the tabs below to see further information about Early Years.

Children who meet the national criteria (see below) are entitled to a free childcare place from the start of the term after they turn two years old.

They will receive 570 hours of free childcare over the year – 15 hours per week if used in term times only (38 weeks) Some childcare providers open all year round, in which case the number of free hours can be stretched over the full year.

Your 2-year-old can get free childcare if you live in England and get one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit, and your household income is £15,400 a year or less after tax, not including benefit payments
  • Child tax credits, and your household income is £16,190 a year or less before tax
  • The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • The Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

2-year-olds can also get free childcare if they:

  • Are looked after by a local authority
  • Have an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • Get Disability Living Allowance
  • Have left care under an adoption order, special guardianship order or a child arrangements order

You may have to pay for extra costs like meals, nappies or trips.

How can I access this service?

First check that you are eligible for a free place. If you are, Southwark will supply you with a list of participating providers and you can contact them directly to decide which setting with vacancies would best suit you and your child.

All providers have to comply with the ‘Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage’. This states that ‘Providers must follow their legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 (for example, the provisions on reasonable adjustments)' and ‘must have arrangements in place to support children with SEN or disabilities’.

All children are entitled to a free place from the start of the term after they turn three. They can receive 570 hours of free early learning and childcare over the year – 15 hours per week if taken during term times only (38 weeks). Some childcare providers open all year round, in which case the number of free hours can be stretched over the full year.

This service is for all children from the age three. This service is open to everybody, though individual settings offering places may have their own criteria for offering places. For instance, schools may have an admissions policy based on how far children live from the school. All providers have to comply with the ‘Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage’. This states that ‘Providers must follow their legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 (for example, the provisions on reasonable adjustments)' and ‘must have arrangements in place to support children with SEN or disabilities’.

Southwark funds a range of providers to deliver free places, including nursery classes in schools, private or voluntary sector nurseries, pre-schools and childminders. Find a list of these below.

How can I access this service?

Approach the school, nursery or childminder of your choice. If they offer you a place and your child takes it up, they will claim the funding for the place from the Council

A child or young person has SEN (special educational needs) if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made them. Children and young people who have SEN may also have a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Where a child is covered by SEN and disability legislation, reasonable adjustments and access arrangements should be considered, planned and reviewed.

All of the below listed service providers must have arrangements in place to support children with SEN. It is particularly important in the early years to identify needs quickly and make provisions to meet those needs. When you contact Early Years settings, you can ask what support they provide, and you can ask for their 'SEN Information Report' which must detail their plans to support children with SEN within their setting. SEN Information Reports should also be available on their website. See below for explanations of the different types of Early Years settings.

Maintained nursery schools must:

  • use their best endeavours to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need
  • ensure that children with SEN engage in the activities of school alongside children who do not have SEN
  • designate a teacher to be responsible for co-ordinating SEN provision (the SEN co-ordinator, or SENCO)
  • inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child
  • They must also prepare a report on:
  • the implementation of their SEN policy
  • their arrangements for the admission of disabled children
  • the steps being taken to prevent disabled children from being treated less favourably than others
  • the facilities provided to enable access to the school for disabled children, and their accessibility plan showing how they plan to improve access over time

Information and guidance is available to settings and you can also read these for further insight into how settings are expected to provide for children in the Early Years. Click the following links to see The Early Years Code of Practice and the EYFS Statutory Framework.

Early Years settings are funded in different ways to provide support in addition to what is available for all children. For more information on the types of funding available click here:

There are lots of specialist services provided by the Council and the Health Authority to support children in the early years and beyond. You can find details of these services in the 'Specialist Support Services' section and the 'Health And Wellbeing' section.

When a child is aged between two and three, early years practitioners must review progress and provide parents with a Progress Check. This should be a short written summary of their child’s development, focusing in particular on communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. The progress check must identify the child’s strengths and any areas where the child’s progress is slower than expected. If there are significant emerging concerns (or identified SEN or disability) practitioners should develop a targeted plan to support the child, involving other professionals such as, for example, the setting’s SENCO (special educational needs co-ordinator).

A key principle under the SEND Code of Practice (2015) is that there should be no delay in making any necessary SEN provision in early years, as delay at this stage can give rise to learning difficulty and subsequently to loss of self esteem, frustration in learning and to behaviour difficulties. The Code states that:
“Early action to address identified needs is critical to the future progress and improved outcomes that are essential in helping the child to prepare for adult life”.

Where an early years setting identifies a child as having SEN they should work in partnership with parents to establish the support the child needs. Where a child continues to make less than expected progress, despite evidence-based support and interventions that are matched to the child’s area of need, practitioners should consider involving appropriate specialists, for example, health visitors, speech and language therapists, Portage workers, educational psychologists or specialist teachers, who may be able to identify effective strategies, equipment, programmes or other interventions to enable the child to make progress towards the desired learning and development outcomes. The decision to involve specialists should be taken with the child’s parents.

All settings should adopt a graduated approach with four stages of action: assess, plan, do and review. This cycle of action should be revisited in increasing detail and with increasing frequency, to identify the best way of securing good progress. At each stage parents should be engaged with the setting, contributing their insights to assessment and planning. Intended outcomes should be shared with parents and reviewed with them, along with action taken by the setting, at agreed times.

Where, despite the setting having taken relevant and purposeful action to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child, the child has not made expected progress, the setting should consider requesting an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment. More information on this process is available on our Education, Health, Care Plan pages.

SEN support should include planning and preparing for transition, before a child moves into another setting or school. This can also include a review of the SEN support being provided or an annual review if the child has an EHC plan. To support the transition, information should be shared by the current setting (in agreement with parents) with the receiving setting or school.

Here is a list of the different types of Early Years Education in Southwark:

  • Children's centres - These provide advice and support for parents and carers. Their services are available to you from pregnancy to reception class at primary school. They offer a wide range of services under one roof. Your child can make friends and learn as they play and you can get advice on health and family matters, learn about training and job opportunities or simply socialise with other parents.

  • Nurseries - There are different types of nursery schools in Southwark. Some are attached to schools and maintained by the Local Authority, and some are independent nursery settings. You will need to go to the school/nursery and make an application for a nursery place. 

  • PVIs - There are also many Private, Voluntary and Independent Nurseries in Southwark.

  • Childminders - A childminder will look after children at home, usually their own home. They are registered with the Office for Standards in Education Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) and they are inspected regularly. They are often flexible about the hours that they work and will make the most of local parks, playgrounds, toy libraries, drop-in groups and community centres. Children have the chance to make friends with the other children who go to their childminder.

More information on different types of Early Years settings can be found here 

Southwark Children and Family Centres

 Borough, Bankside and Walworth

Bermondsey and Rotherhithe

Camberwell and Dulwich

Peckham, Peckham Rye and Nunhead


  • A full list of Nurseries in Southwark can be found here 
  • A list of Childminders in Southwark can be found here 
  • Cherry Garden School is a specialist school in Southwark with an Early Years department for children from aged 2 with SEN, this setting is only for children with EHC Plans in place. 
  • Bubbly Nursery is situated at 32 Bellingham Green, SE6 3JB (Borough of Lewisham) for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) living in Lewisham, Southwark and other neighbouring boroughs. 

Portage is a home-visiting educational service for pre-school children with SEND and their families.

In Southwark this is a targeted service:

From 1 April 2023 the eligibility criteria are as follows:


  • Aged one to three-years
  • Who are a Southwark resident, not currently attending any early years’ provision, and
  • Identified as having a significant delay in two or more developmental areas.

In addition, we will prioritise families where:

  • There are barriers to the child entering a formal education setting
  • There may be social vulnerabilities and associated risk.


The Kids Portage Home Learning service aims to work with families to help them develop a quality of life and experience, for themselves and their young children, in which they can learn together, play together, participate and be included in their community.

All Portage practice is based on the Portage Model. We provide weekly home visits during which we:

  • Plan and review play based teaching activities, using the Portage small steps approach to learning;
  • Observe self-initiated play to identify the child’s interests, strengths and emerging skills;
  • Share and address families’ priorities and provide support.

We support parent/ carers and other practitioners to use the small steps approach to learning, breaking down long term goals into achievable targets.  

Portage practitioners aim to empower parents to make informed choices about their child’s development whilst supporting them to feel confident in their own abilities.  

The Portage Can Do approach celebrates diversity and emphasises that all children are able to learn. By building on abilities and strengths rather than focusing on difficulties, Portage supports families in looking forward, with small step targets planned to celebrate success.

Visit the Kids Portage website for more information here.  

All Local Authorities are required to establish a SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) inclusion fund for 3 and 4 year olds with SEND whose parents/carers are taking up the free entitlement to a pre-school place. The purpose of the Early Years SEND Inclusion Fund (SENDIF) is to support Local Authorities to help providers to address the needs of individual children with SEND.

This guidance is to inform all Early Years providers on how to access support for a child in their care who may have SEND and may require Early Years SEND Support. These are children who do not have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Click here to visit our SENDIF page which has further information and guidance, as well as the relevant documents for parents/carers and Early Years settings.