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The Portage Service: pre-school education support service for children with complex developmental needs


Portage is an early learning support service for pre-school children who have complex developmental needs and their families.

The Portage Service visits children and their families at home and run groups to support children's development and socialisation. Groups also provide a supportive forum for parents to talk and share information.

The name Portage comes from a town in Wisconsin, USA, where the first home teaching scheme began. Portage has been established in the United Kingdom (UK) since 1976.

Who can access the Portage service

The Durham Portage Service is for families living in County Durham who have or look after a child younger than three years of age with complex developmental needs. This means that the child will have developmental delay that impacts or may impact upon their participation and/or achievement in age-typical play, learning and social experiences.

How to access the Portage service

  • You will need to be referred to the Portage Service or you can refer yourself. Referrals are usually made by health professionals who will have discussed this with you and gained your permission to make the referral.
  • A referral form is available from the Supporting special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) - templates, referral forms and reports page on Durham's Local Offer.
  • When we have received your referral form, a Portage worker will contact you by telephone to talk to you about your child and what we can offer.  Together we will decide if you and your child would benefit from the service.

How the Portage service works

Depending on your child's needs and age we might offer a home visiting service or attendance at a Portage group.

Portage work will be based on the three essential elements of the Portage model:

  • Family Focus: We work in partnership with you and your Portage worker will spend time talking to you about your priorities.
  • Child-led play: Your Portage worker will spend time observing your child's play to identify individual interests, strengths, and emerging skills.
  • Structured teaching: We acknowledge that you know your child best. Your Portage worker will work with you to find out about what your child can do already and plan play-based teaching activities that you can do with your child at home so that your child learns new skills in "small steps".

In addition, where appropriate, your Portage worker may:

  • liaise with other professionals involved with your child.
  • support your child's transition into an early years' setting at three years of age.
  • provide and/or signpost you to relevant information concerning your child and/or the priorities you have identified.

The Portage workers

Portage workers are SEND and Inclusion Senior Specialist Support Workers (SSSW) who have qualifications and experience in working with young children with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities.

Contact us
Durham Portage Service
03000 263 350
Our address is:
  • Durham County Council
  • Education Development Centre
  • Enterprise Way
  • Spennymoor
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DL16 6YP