Increase in very young children in Hertfordshire facing exclusion

Jennie Newman also highlighted the increasing numbers of young children whose behaviour was challenging

Friday, 17th December 2021, 9:16 am

Early years experts are being brought in to support nurseries and schools in Hertfordshire with children as young as three and four who are at risk of being excluded.

The increase in the number of pre-school children whose behaviour is so ‘challenging’ was highlighted on Thursday, December 9, as part of a review of education recovery post-pandemic.

As part of the review, Jennie Newman – head of integrated services for learning within the county council’s children’s services – focused on the recovery for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

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And she said the impact of the pandemic – and having been out of school for so long – had been greater for SEND children.

She said that since the pandemic there had been ‘unprecedented’ demand for SEND support.

And she said that a ‘huge volume’ of requests had come from early years settings – which include nurseries and Reception classes.

“I am sure you are all aware that the impact on children who have been out of school for so long is particularly evident in the ‘early years’,” she told the meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee.

“And certainly in more deprived areas of Hertfordshire, we are hearing that there are many children with really low levels of communication, of language, of personal care skills coming into settings – and settings are asking for support.

“Those children are currently being identified as having SEND.

“Their needs aren’t fully identified and we don’t know that they do all have SEND.

“But we do know that what these settings need is advice and support, because they aren’t learning-ready and able to fully access the settings.

“So there is a lot of support going in our early years”

But Ms Newman also highlighted the increasing numbers of young children whose behaviour was challenging.

“Sadly we are in a position where we are seeing children – as young as three and four – coming in to our early years settings and displaying really challenging behaviour,” she said.

“And we are seeing increasing children of that age range being excluded or in danger of exclusion from the setting, which is sadly really terrifying.”

As a result the county council will now be taking on two specialist advisory teachers to provide a ‘fast response’ to early years settings, where children are showing these challenging behaviours.

One of the experts will be based in the east of the county – and the other in the west.

And commenting on the number of children who are not ‘learning ready’, she said: “It’s a really worrying issue that we are seeing children as young as that coming into education settings who are just not ready for learning in any way, shape or form.

“And again it isn’t just a picture in Hertfordshire it’s something that is being reported nationally – and something that we need to think about and analyse in terms of the society as a whole.

“Why we are seeing increases in children as young as that displaying the sorts of behaviours that mean a setting will not feel they can meet their needs?”

During the session Ms Newman also pointed to the increase in requests for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP).

And she referred to the attempts to recruit education psychologists, despite a national shortage.

Back in 2015 she reported there were 3682 children with EHCPs in the county, which had risen to 8338 by 2021.

And currently she said there were 9300 – with the increase predicted to continue.

She said funding had already been agreed to support a new restructure of the team – including plans for ‘duty’ lines that would be open from early morning to 6pm.

After referring to the ‘real explosion’ in demand for support for children with SEND nationally, she said: “We are working in a system that is really struggling to meet the needs that are out there – to support all the children and families with increasing complexity of need.”

She recognised that the impact of mental health issues on children and young people has been “huge”, as well as on teachers and headteachers.

And in response she highlighted the roll-out of emotional literacy training to all teaching assistants in schools and materials available on bereavement and loss and on school avoidance.

She said that throughout the pandemic a huge amount of work had been done in terms of keeping in touch with all vulnerable children and families.

And she highlighted the ‘high’ level of referrals to the county’s education service for medical absence – pointing in particular to those children with autism and high anxiety who were now struggling to return to the classroom and to fully integrate back in to their local schools.

Following the presentation, members of the county council’s overview and scrutiny committee may decide to look more closely at education recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

And following the meeting chair of the committee Cllr David Andrews said the evidence had been “challenging on a number of levels”.

He said it was “imperative” that the county council – through the overview and scrutiny committee – looked at this in greater detail.

And he said it was clear there was more work to do for the committee, pointing to plans for a further ‘deep-dive’ into the issues related to the impact of the pandemic on SEND children and their families.

“It’s clear to us that we have to put much more effort into getting better outcomes for SEND children and their families,” he said.

Adding, “I don’t think it is enough to support the children. Are we also going out to support the families too?”

Cllr Andrews said much of the evidence had been “quite challenging to listen to”.

And he said: “It is imperative for scrutiny to do a ‘deep dive’ to ensure we bring out the best results for SEND children.”

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