Proposal to create an Early Years Assessment Base for children with complex learning difficulties. 27 June to 25 July 2023. This consultation is closed.

Summary of proposal

The proposal is to create an Early Years Assessment Base (EYAB) for children with complex learning difficulties as as a satellite of Hampton Dene Primary School in Hereford for autumn term 2023.

Context for the proposal

Herefordshire Local Authority (LA) has offered assessment of Early Years (EY) children with complex learning difficulties at the two special schools that cater for primary-age children with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulty (Westfield Special School in Leominster and Blackmarston Primary Special School in Hereford).

Sufficiency projections have established that demand has significantly increased and will continue to increase and additional capacity is urgently required. Current forecasts indicate that approximately 150 additional special school or specialist places will be needed over the next 4 years. This includes pressure to identify further additional places for Early Years children.

The following principles are particularly relevant to this proposal (Statutory Guidance: SEND Code of practice 2015):

  • The need to support the child or young person, and the child’s parents, to facilitate the development of the child or young person and to help them achieve the best possible educational outcomes, preparing them effectively for adulthood. (1.1.)
  • The early identification of children and young people’s needs and early intervention to support them (1.2)
  • Collaboration between education, health and social care services to provide support (1.2)
  • High quality provision to meet the needs of children and young people with SEN (1.2)
  • A focus on inclusive practice and removing barriers to learning (1.2)
  • The Children and Families Act 2014 secures the general presumption in law of mainstream education in relation to decisions about where children and young people with SEN should be educated and the Equality Act 2010 provides protection from discrimination for disabled children. (1.26)

Current position

  • Westfield and Blackmarston special schools are now full for new admissions in September 2023 for nursery and reception-age children.
  • Information received from the education and health staff at the Child Development Centre where children are assessed, diagnosed and supported and from other services such as the Portage Team who work with EY children and families in their homes, confirms the significant growth in demand.
  • During the period from 2010 to 2022 the number of EY children with EHC Plans has trebled.
  • Sufficiency projections have identified a priority need to ensure a significant expansion in the number of EY specialist places for children with learning difficulties and other complex presentations of need from September 2023 and, based on our work on sufficiency, it is acknowledged that this increasing demand is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Current expected numbers for 2023 are given in the Cost and Resources section below.
  • We have developed this proposal through dialogue with Council Officers and local schools through the Herefordshire Social Inclusion Group.


In considering how to address the growth in demand, it has also become evident that there has been an increase in the number of parents or carers seeking specialist school places for their children at Nursery and Reception age. For many children this is a very early stage for their parents to make the decision about whether mainstream or special education will best meet their needs.

This proposal recognises the legal right of a ‘presumption to mainstream’ in which all children should be able to have their needs met at a mainstream school, alongside a parental right to express a preference for their child’s school (SEND Code of Practice 2015) We also acknowledge that for some children with complex and substantial levels of need, the concentration of facilities in a specialist setting can be beneficial.

The proposal is to establish an Early Years Assessment Base (EYAB) the purpose of which is to: 

  • Provide EY children with complex learning needs with access to a specialist educational provision
  • Provide the expertise to assess and support their individual learning needs
  • Accurately determine how their needs can best be met in the future, and
  • Meet their current needs early and well

Experience with our existing resource bases has been highly positive and has created an ethos of inclusion throughout the schools concerned. This proposal would also strengthen the support for children with complex learning needs across our mainstream schools by providing additional resource to provide outreach by specialist staff into mainstream schools. The EYAB would also offer mainstream staff the opportunity to visit the base to upskill themselves to meet the widest possible range of needs in their own schools. As such the base is expected to impact on skills and knowledge of staff and the removal of barriers to inclusion in the wider education community. 

Currently, for those attending the special school nurseries, the offer has been for mornings or afternoons only which can have a limiting effect on parents’ ability to gain employment. This proposal provides an opportunity to extend the offer to 30 hours of free childcare in a specialist provision for those children that meet the national criteria.

Herefordshire Council is therefore considering a two stage proposal that meets the immediate demand for places but also recognises that inclusion of disabled pupils in mainstream schools is integral to reducing long-term demand to a more sustainable level. 

This two stage proposal is based on assumptions that:

  • The EYAB is established as a satellite provision to a mainstream school
  • Placement at the EYAB and the point of transition to the child’s next school will be timed to be in the child’s best interests but will be no longer than the end of Reception
  • It is anticipated that children will transfer to local mainstream or special schools at the end of the child’s time at the EYAB.  Again this will be determined in the child’s best interests and taking into consideration parental preference
  • There will be sufficient places for children to transition into from the EYAB and,
  • The EYAB will become part of an overall Herefordshire EY assessment system for all children with severe and complex learning needs which seeks to get the best from all available resources

Stage1: 2023-4 First Year of Operation

Develop a satellite resource base run by a local and inclusive mainstream school to develop a model of operation that can be scaled up if evaluations indicate this is viable

Initially, the EYAB will offer places to the children in Reception and Nursery who have been identified as needing specialist EY provision. The lead for the base, the Head of the EYAB for Complex SEND, will work in a partnership between Local Authority and the host school and support a transfer of management responsibility fully to the host school leadership once fully operational. A support and reference group will be established to provide advice and network support. Before the EYAB opens in autumn 2023, the Head of the EYAB will work with nursery settings, other professionals and parents to build relationships, commence assessment processes and facilitate effective transition into the EYAB.

In partnership with parents/carers and the current team around the child, a thorough and detailed understanding of the child’s needs will inform placement decision-making for Year 1 onwards, which could include mainstream and specialist options  Transition to the next phase of education will be facilitated with a timely and personalised plan of action and support.

At the end of the academic year 2023-4, those Reception-age children that continue to need a specialist place will transition to a special school, which will be carefully planned over a period of time with special school staff.

For those children whose needs will best be met at a mainstream school, again, a carefully planned transition to a mainstream school near to the child’s home would be the expectation. The staff at the EYAB will work alongside mainstream colleagues and parents/carers to plan for the pupil’s admission. They will also offer support at the assessment base to mainstream staff through work shadowing and a programme of training opportunities. Outreach advice and support through transition work in the destination schools for each child will also take place.

Stage 2:  Development of the full EYAB

During the academic year 2023-24,council officers will work with special and mainstream schools to develop criteria for which EY children will access nursery assessment provision at the EYAB and which children will need to be assessed at a special school. It is expected that the criteria would partly be based on severity and type of need.

Projections carried out by the Council indicate that the number of nursery places offered would continue to increase with demand over time. The longer-term proposal is that only nursery-age children would be placed into the EYAB for their assessment period.

A separate but linked decision needs to be taken by the Council regarding the ability to offer 30 hours of childcare provision as described above. This proposed development potentially offers an opportunity to address this.

Costs and resources

The rooms already identified were built for Early Years children and have been recently used as a nursery. There is likely to be no or minimal expenditure to ensure that the rooms at Widemarsh Children’s Centre are modified and equipped in readiness for the children with complex learning needs. 

The Local Authority will provide £5000 for play equipment and other necessary resources for the EYAB.  A leader experienced in EY education and complex learning difficulties has been appointed to the Local Authority to develop this type of provision. If this proposal is agreed by the Local Authority following consultation, the postholder will be seconded to Hampton Dene Primary School.

The EYAB will be funded in the same way as other Early Years pupils in special schools and other specialist provision. The new EYAB will be funded for 13 places initially plus individual pupil top-up funding in accordance with the level of need described in the child’s EHC Plan. Space allows this to be extended to up to 24 children (8 Reception and 16 part-time nursery places) should it be required.

Outcomes sought

  • Children with complex learning needs will have their needs identified early and accurately with timely plans in place for a move into appropriate placement for statutory age education.
  • Support for transition into and from the EYAB will provide a school readiness model which means that the child and their parent experiences a positive and welcoming introduction to school and can be supported with an effective, personalised plan of support.
  • The extension of our network of resource bases will be highly beneficial to the whole community. Parents will know that, where their child has complex learning needs, and meets the criteria for entry to specialist provision, they will have trained staff to address and assess their needs. 
  • Schools will know that children have had their needs assessed thoroughly over a period of time. 
  • The school hosting and managing the EYAB will benefit by acquiring a specialism and experience in the needs of children with complex learning needs.
  • Have your say

Review of the EYAB

If, following this consultation, the EYAB is established, a review of the EYAB will be undertaken after the first three years of operation to make recommendations for the future development of EY assessment for children with complex needs in Herefordshire.

Have your say

We invited you to comment in support of or against the proposals to create the new mainstream resource base for severe and complex learning difficulty in Herefordshire. The consultation is now closed.

For any further information please email: 


Published: 27th June 2023