Publication Details

Sammons, P., Smees, R., Taggart, B., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I. & Elliot, K. (2002). Special education needs across the pre-school period. London, United Kingdom: Department for Education and Skills.


The Early Years Transitions and Special Educational Needs (EYTSEN) project builds on the work of the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project, a major longitudinal study of a national sample of young children’s progress and development through pre-school and into primary school until the end of Key Stage 1 (age 3+ to 7 years) (Sylva et al., 1999).1 Both the EPPE and EYTSEN research studies are funded by the DfES. The EYTSEN study explores evidence of possible special educational needs (SEN) amongst pre-school children. It uses a range of information to identify children who may be ‘at risk’ in terms of either cognitive or social behavioural development and investigates links with a variety of child, parent and family characteristics. It also describes variations in the policies and provision offered by different pre-school centres designed to support children with special needs.

Information for over 2800 children attending 141 pre-school centres selected from five regions across England has been analysed. Centres have been drawn from a range of types of providers (local authority day nursery, combined centres, playgroups, private day nurseries, nursery schools and nursery classes). The research was designed to study the six main types of institutional provision, not other forms of pre-school care such as relatives, childminders or nannies. One-to-one assessments of different aspects of young children’s cognitive development were conducted by trained researchers at entry to the study (age 3+) and later at entry to primary school. In addition, ratings of individual children’s social and behavioural development have been collected from pre-school workers at entry to pre-school, and from teachers when children enter primary school. We thus have several sources of information that can be used to explore young children’s cognitive attainment and progress and their social behavioural development.

In addition to child assessments, parental interviews conducted when children entered the study have been used to collect detailed information about childcare history and health, and characteristics of children, their families and home environments.

Interviews with centre managers of the pre-school settings attended by children have been used to provide details about pre-school settings including provision for SEN. Observations concerning aspects of centre ‘quality’, and measures of the environment experienced by children were made by trained researchers. The distribution of children in the sample identified as 'at risk' of SEN between different types of pre-school settings has been examined. In addition, the extent of variation in provision made for SEN between different centres and type of pre-school setting has been investigated.

The EYTSEN study analysed these different sources of information and the linkages amongst them with a view to informing policy and practice related to the characteristics of young children ‘at risk’ of SEN and pre-school centre practices associated with changes in risk status.