Inclusion and wellbeing

A funded Level 3 SENCo qualification for the Early Years

Best Practice Network delivers the NCFE Level 3 SENCo qualification for Level 3 qualified Early Years educators and childminders in England
An orange cartton image of Early Years eductors studying for their SENCo qualification.
November 21, 2023
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In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • As part of their Covid-19 recovery programme, the DfE is funding a Level 3 SENCo qualification for Early Years educators in England, delivered by the Best Practice Network.
  • The qualification is open to educators with a full and relevant Level 3 Early Years educator qualification, including childminders and home-based educators.
  • The scheme is set to run until Spring 2024 so get your application in as soon as possible.

A funded qualification for Early Years educators is hard to come by, but there are schemes you can take advantage of. For example, Best Practice Network delivers the NCFE Level 3 SENCo qualification, funded by the Department for Education as part of their Covid-19 recovery programme

I met with Best Practice Network’s Anna Watson, the programme lead for the Level 3 Early Years SENCo qualification, and Rachel King, who is working hard to ensure educators know about this funded offer.

“The aim is to improve outcomes,” explains Anna, “We want to have the biggest and quickest impact on children, their families, and their settings. The key to that is a qualified workforce, with great practices embedded throughout daily provision. We want to get qualified SENCos on the ground, equipped with the knowledge they need.”

5 pre-school-aged children play with balls in an Early Years setting

Who can apply for this funded SENCo qualification?

The good news is, that childminders and home-based educators are included in this offer. A childminding veteran of 26 years, Anna knows how important this is.

“Having the qualification accessible to childminders is huge,” says Anna, “Some childminders feel marginalised as it is, so often they end up being forgotten and out of scope. But they’re included here - within this, they’re being recognised as equal. There’s a place for everyone in Early Years education - it’s about what’s right for that child.”

However, like any funded qualification, there are some limitations as to who can apply for this:

  • The qualification is for Early Years educators in England who already hold a full and relevant Level 3 Early Years educator qualification.
    If you’re at all unsure, you can check whether your qualification appears on this list from the DfE, as you must provide evidence of your qualification with your application.
  • You must be employed as an educator at a PVI setting, including Oftsed-registered home-based educators and childminders.
    Part-time employees can apply and can be given an extra two months to complete their online portfolio if needed. 

In addition, the setting must meet one of the following criteria:

Unfortunately, the funding is not available for educators in maintained Early Years settings attached to schools or council-run settings. 

  • There can only be one funded place for this qualification per setting, on this scheme.
    “Whatever the learner experienced while studying, they can bring back to their setting,” says Anna, “They have access to the course materials for 6 months after they qualify, so they can share it with their team. Part of the SENCo role is to support the CPD of colleagues, so by upskilling their team, they’re fulfilling that requirement.”
    However, Local Authorities have previously offered this qualification, so as long as your team member hasn’t received their qualification through this scheme, you can still apply.
  • Ideally, the setting SENCo or aspiring SENCo will be the one applying, but it does not have to be.
    As above, if your setting’s SENCo happens to already have this qualification, another Level 3 qualified educator can apply for the funded place.
  • There are limited funded places available.
    Best Practice Network has been provided funding for 7,000 places in total, running until August 2024. However, over 3,500 eligible applications have already been received so if you’re keen to earn this qualification, apply as soon as you can.

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The content and format of the Level 3 SENCo qualification

Rachel and Anna were keen to express that this is a qualification rather than a CPD course -  there is an expectation of a minimum of 12 hours of online study, so you will have homework to do! So what does the qualification look like?

  • The qualification is 4 months long.
  • You will attend 4 3-hour webinars to learn the course material (once per week). The webinars are a mix of live tutor-led training, breakout room activities, group discussions, and group training. In total, you will receive 24 guided learning hours.
  • Your work is assessed through written assignments, where the knowledge you need to have is broken down into specific questions, to be answered online. This creates your online portfolio of work with 26 assessment criteria to be met.
  • You will have the same tutor and assessor for each session, and you’ll receive a mentor too. Any learner with additional needs is supported on a case-by-case basis, according to their individual requirements.
    “We support the learner all the way through,” explains Anna, “We have a variety of learners with a variety of needs and challenges so we’re there to ensure that all the learners are able to understand and meet the assessment criteria. We spend the extra time with learners where they need some support to work to the best of their ability.”
  • The manager of the setting where the learner is employed is also required to sign a declaration that the learner will be supported in their role and qualification by the setting too.

7 Early Years Educators in a classroom, undertaking their Level 3 SENCo qualification

What is the outcome of the SENCo qualification?

The qualification is funded by the DfE to increase the number of Level 3 qualified SENCOs who have the knowledge and skills to properly fulfil the role of a SENCo. But what does that look like in practice?

On completion of the qualification, learners will be able to:

  • Explain what Special Educational Needs (SEN) are, including the four areas of need
  • Know how to identify SEN, including in children with EAL
  • Understand how to actively engage children and their families or carers in the Assess, Plan, Do, Review process and explain the role of Early Years educators and SENCos in that cycle.
  • Describe what an effective support plan should include and why clear outcomes are important

“We gather feedback at the end of the programme,” says Anna, “When you see where the learners have started, and then the feedback we’re getting at the end, it just makes my heart sing. Our learners are telling us:

  •  ‘I’ve successfully applied for an ECHP.
  •  ‘I’ve managed to arrange additional support for a child.’ 
  • I’m signposting families to the Local Offer.’ 

That’s the immediate impact we want.” 

The learners themselves receive a certificate, badge, and lanyard, so they can proudly share their new knowledge and qualified SENCo status, and the setting they work in receives a digital banner and a certificate too.

The big ideas

How can I find out more about the funded Level 3 SENCo qualification?

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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