A graduated approach to SEND - the 4 step approach

Identifying needs

Practitioners working with young children should be alert to emerging needs and respond early.

All early years providers must have arrangements in place to support children with SEND.


Guidance on developing your SEND Offer (pdf, 41 KB)

These will help you identify special educational needs:

  • the Healthy Child Programme progress check at age two 
  • progress reviews
  • formative assessment and observations
  • listening to parents or carers' concerns
  • observations from the SENCO

Next stage

Using these assessments and observations, you need to:

  • decide if there is cause for concern about a child's progress 
  • identify if a child's development is behind expected levels for their age


There must be no delay in making special educational provision.

Early action is critical to a child's future progress.

Identifying a child

Where you identify that a child has additional or special educational needs, you must work in partnership with the child's parents to establish the right level of support.

Graduated approach

You should use a graduated approach with four stages of action:

  • assess
  • plan
  • do
  • review

The 4 step approach

1. Assess

The early years practitioner works together with a child's parents and the setting's SENCO to assess a child's needs. They should regularly assess the child to make sure the right support can be put into place. 

Where the child makes little or no progress, specialist assessment from outside professionals may be needed. 

Where outside professionals are not already working with the setting, the SENCO discusses this with the child's parents to get their agreement.

2. Plan

The child's parents, key person and SENCO agree:

  • outcomes they are seeking for the child
  • interventions and support to be put in place
  • how they expect the interventions to impact upon the child's progress 
  • a review date

Interventions should:

  • be strategies and support provided by practitioners with the relevant skills
  • include a range of learning opportunities and differentiated activities to meet the outcomes identified for the child

Depending the level of support that a child needs, interventions should be documented on:

  • an Individual Education Plan
  • an Individual Provision Plan
  • a Support Plan

If you need advice about which documents to use, you can contact the Quality Improvement team or Early Years SEND team.

3. Do

The practitioner, usually the child's key person, is responsible for supporting the child each day and putting in place the agreed interventions.

The setting's SENCO should:

  • support the key person in assessing the child's response to the actions 
  • provide advice on how to put the interventions in place effectively

4. Review

The setting works with the child's parents to:

  • review the child's progress in line with the agreed date
  • evaluate the impact and quality of support
  • agree any changes to the outcomes, depending on the child's progress

If outside professionals are involved, they should also be invited to attend regular reviews. 

Involving specialists 

You should use the ‘Assess, Plan, Do, Review' graduated approach to meeting children's needs as a continuous cycle. If a child isn't making expected progress despite interventions matched to their needs, consider involving specialists, if they're not already involved. 

You should make this decision in partnership with the child's parents.

Additional funding

You should consider if your setting will need additional support so that you can meet the child's needs and how this might be provided. You might need to apply for the Early Years Inclusion Funding. (If the child is 3 or 4 years of age)

Education, health and care (EHC) plans

If the child continues to make limited progress over a sustained period time, a setting should consider making an application for an EHCP.

You should discuss this with the child's parents and all professionals involved in the child's support.

For more information about EHCPs please click here.

Further information

Early Years Guide to SEND Code of Practice (PDF)