No document can possibly list all the things a child will do and say between the ages of birth and age 5. It cannot possibly suggest every way a practitioner might work more closely with parents (Positive Relationships) or adapt the environment for the individual child (Enabling Environments) or include every activity you might plan (Learning and Development).
So why, I wonder, do many of my conversations with early years practitioners go as follows? –
Me – Early Years Outcomes is not a check list.
Childminder – my Local Authority Development Officer says I have to tick of the statements.
Me – have you read the bit where it says it is not a tick list – the bit at the bottom of every page? It says, ‘Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways. The development statements and their order should not be taken as necessary steps for individual children. They should not be used as checklists. The age/stage bands overlap because these are not fixed age boundaries but suggest a typical range of development.’
Childminder – yes but my record keeping software forces me to find statements in Early Years Outcomes for all my observations before I can log them.
Me – but that’s using as a check list, which is it not meant to be.
Childminder – I know but my Ofsted inspector wanted to see the statements ticked.
Me – you need to challenge your inspector and show them the wording in Early Years Outcomes which says ‘This document is a non-statutory guide to support practitioners. It can be used by childminders, nurseries and others, such as Ofsted, throughout the early years as a guide to making best-fit judgements about whether a child is showing typical development for their age, may be at risk of delay or is ahead for their age.’ The key words are ‘best fit judgements’.
Childminder – I said that and my inspector suggested that I date the statements instead.
Me – but that’s still using it as a check list – you run the risk of not looking for observations beyond the very limited list of things the child might be doing and saying in the document and missing other typical and amazing development in the process.
Childminder – but parents like to see what their child has achieved and they love it when we agree to tick something new off.
Me – the guidance ‘What to expect when? A parents guide’ from Foundation Years is more appropriate for parents and that gives suggestions for things parents might do at home to support their child. It explains how the age-bands overlap because ‘every child is different and children do not grow and develop at the same rate.’
Childminder – I don’t want to lose my grade by not doing something the inspector said I needed to do. I’ve started colour coding all my observations to link to the statements in Early Years Outcomes and I date them all now – it takes me ages every week to do it but it looks really pretty and I hope the inspector will like it (or something similar) …
Me – bangs head on desk!
Nancy Stewart, who co-wrote Development Matters in 2012 with Helen Moylett, calls it a ‘landscape of possibilities, not a road map’ and reminds us that children's ‘learning is not predictable’. She is concerned that the Development Matters / Early Years Outcomes guidance is not being used in the way it was intended.
Stewart reminds practitioners that it was meant to provide us with an ‘overview of typical progress’.
Stewart’s explanation of children’s different ways of learning in this article again repeats that the document she helped to write is not a check list. She reminds us that children’s learning is ‘messy’ and ‘not predictable’ and says that, ‘if we equate assessment with simply trying to find a descriptor to match what we noticed so we can tick it off and move on, then we have missed the point’ (EYFS Forum, 2016).
Of course there will always be early years colleagues who waste their time looking for the word ‘colour’ before finding one tiny mention of it in Early Years Outcomes (somewhere in Expressive Art and Design) and then tweak the child’s observation to match the EYO wording so they can ‘tick it off’.
More enlightened practitioners, recognising that Early Years Outcomes is a guide rather than a child development bible, will be too busy celebrating the child’s achievement at recognising a new colour or blending paint colours to make a new one with parents to be bothered about looking for a statement that might or might not be there… they will know it links to Art and Design / using media and materials and that will be enough for them to clearly demonstrate the child is making appropriate progress.
How you work is up to you - who am I to tell you that you are wrong if you have found a way that works for you? However, too many colleagues spend too much time looking for links between observations and Early Years Outcomes when none exist or the links are tenuous at best. Others waste time trying to find observations for every statement in Early Years Outcomes or pushing children to achieve things that are beyond their grasp because they are using Early Years Outcomes as a checklist and trying to move them on when are not developmentally ready and consolidation of a skill would be a better option.
My feeling is that this time spent looking for links could be better spent playing with childminded children or being with their families. Part of my 'are you doing too much?' advice is to constantly reflect on your provision and ways of working and ask yourself whether each piece of paper you complete (or box you tick online) is required - or whether it's a myth perpetuated by a fear of an Ofsted inspector who comes out once every 4 years saying it is needed...
Sarah | Knutsford Childminding