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Whitefield and Lloyd Park Children’s Charity trial new joined-up model for pre-school SEND

Whitefield Academy Trust and the Lloyd Park Children’s charity have teamed up to pilot a new approach to providing support and information for families of pre-school children with special educational needs and disabilities. The new “Somewhere to Belong” invite-only sessions that  couple the fun of a playgroup with access to variety of healthcare and educational specialists who can offer help and advice.

The approach has been developed as part of an ongoing three-year research project by Zoe Wells at Whitefield that asked parents and carers about the kind of support they would like and looked at how this can be provided. 

Being the parent or carer of a preschool child with SEND can often be quite isolating. Parents said that they wanted something that was 

  • Local – without too much travel
  • Combined a play session with parental support
  • Just for children with special needs, but felt like an everyday play group.
  • A chance to chat and network both with other parents and carers but also with specialist.

Zoe’s research uncovered the so-called ‘carousel’ model pioneered in New Zealand as a promising approach. Under this system, a rotation of different specialists visit the playgroup over a 6-week cycle, circulating among parents during the session so that they can get some one-on-one help while their child has fun.

The specialists that visit the four groups in Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow and Chingford include:

  • Speech and Language therapists from HENRY 
  • The Citizens Advice Bureau-run SENDIASS (Special Educational Needs and/or Disability Information, Advice and Support Service)
  • A specialist in child development
  • A family-support worker

The aim is to add an occupational therapist and physio to the roster.

It turns out that there are a couple of nice benefits to the approach, apart from the support that it offers to parents; first it provides a good way for the professionals to network too –playgroup leaders and child development experts on a regular basis gives both a useful new perspective. Secondly, in these budget-conscious times, the carousel-approach doesn’t involve too much expense as, it is a question of coordinating the work of existing services, rather than inventing new services.

If you would like more information about Somewhere to Belong sessions, contact or