All Early Years practitioners, whether childminders or nursery teachers, are required to adopt regular assessment of all children under their care. They also must review the progress of each child between two and three (known as the Progress Check at Two) and at their final term of their Early Years Foundation Stage when the child reaches five years of age (known as the EYFS Profile).
Assessment in Early Years has always been a strong area of concern, especially for childminders and other home-based child care providers — and with the recent changes to the EYFS, it must seem overwhelming. The main issue has always been how to demonstrate to OFSTED inspectors that you are performing an ongoing assessment against the EYFS standards for all the children under your care and that the evidence is both reliable and accurate. The latter seems particularly important, as the key function of the Progress Check and the EYFS Profile is to identify each child’s strengths and areas of concern, to inform the parents about their child’s progress, to support children’s development, and to smooth transitions to Key Stage One.
How to make sure your assessment is reliable and accurate
If you follow certain principles and include them in your daily practice, then it will be much easier for you to demonstrate that your assessment is accurate and reliable:
As a practitioner, you spend a lot of time with your children and your involvement with them is ongoing. This allows you to collect plenty of information about their development on a daily basis in variety of contexts, activities, and situations. Your knowledge of the children under your care will be gathered by your observations and interactions with them.
You will also see them interacting and playing with other children and adults. The fact that you observe them continuously and in a range of different contexts, as well as your understanding of child development, make your findings more reliable. You just need to keep your knowledge of current EYFS requirements up to date to make sure your observations and findings are accurate and in line with what is expected of both you and of children.
Assessment is reliable when those who assess create an enabling environment for the children to demonstrate their learning. If the environment is stimulating, children’s individual needs have been considered, and they are allowed to explore safely, they will by all means demonstrate their skills, awareness, and understanding of the world around them — and they will develop harmoniously. Practitioners must remember to apply Responsible Pedagogy to create enabling environments at all times. This means role-modelling positive behaviour, attitudes, and language, but also providing children with opportunities to grow by offering them relevant experiences based on the practitioners’ observations of their children’s learning.
Observing what your child can do consistently without too much adult support is a very important part of your assessment. Identifying what activities your children frequently initiate on their own, what skills they use, and to what extent they use them independently will assure that your children are developing confidence in a range of situations and contexts, which is a reliable proof of their secure and effective learning.
Approaching the assessment holistically is an absolute must for collecting adequate and reliable evidence. The evidence needs to come from a range of different situations and contexts, and must consider your children’s individual needs, talents, requirements, and predispositions. You should never compare the evidence of one child’s attainment with that of other children, as their needs may, and usually will, be different.
A holistic approach also means that you analyse the whole range of evidence and observations gathered during a certain period of time to see the bigger picture. A piece of evidence from one situation might refer to and bring up certain skills only (e.g. speaking and understanding skills) while it may not always inspire your children to demonstrate other skills (e.g. their writing or fine motor skills). The learning goals will all depend on the nature of the activity or experience that the child participates in and the motivation of the child to demonstrate certain skills in a given context. The child might already possess certain skills, but for different reasons may not feel inspired enough to use them in one particular context. It is important to see the bigger picture before arriving at certain conclusions.
Range of perspectives
Your assessment needs to include the perspective of other people who work or have contact with your children, and that of the child themselves. This means you need to work in close partnerships with parents, share your findings with them and include their perspective in your assessment. You may also need to consult other professionals who work with the child such as SEN Coordinators, GP’s, etc. and their findings will inform your practice, planning and assessment greatly. It is very important to hear the voice of the child too and discuss with them their needs, preferences and expectations as they usually know best what kind of contexts, activities and resources support their learning and development.
Observational Assessment – Ongoing versus Snapshot
Observing children is the most reliable method of assessing their progress. When you observe them, you learn to understand them better, you are able to find out what motivates them and why, you can listen to their interactions and engage yourself in meaningful conversations and play with them when most appropriate. Your observations need to be done on a daily basis or continuously, although they do not require you to withdraw yourself from interacting with the children or engage in extensive writing.
You observe your children as you go — while performing your care duties and by using your understanding of child development and your knowledge about individual children’s needs. You may want to use your snapshot observations that capture some specific aspects and moments of your children’s learning as part of your evidence, but as a standalone, they cannot represent a pattern along which a given child may be developing.
Evidence & Work Products
While observation will be your main assessment tool, you may decide to use other ways of collecting evidence which you will later use to form your conclusions about your children’s progress and development. These might be work products such as your children’s projects, drawings, arts & craft objects, photos of them being engaged in an activity or a situation, or audio recordings of their conversations or songs you sang with them. These will all serve as an excellent evidence to demonstrate your children’s attainments.
However, you also need to remember to capture the process, not only the final result. It is the process that tells you (and OFSTED inspectors) a lot about how a child approaches the problem, what skills and existing understanding they use, and how they modify their ideas while arriving to their final conclusions. To capture this process, you may take a series of pictures, make a set of audio recordings, or even video your children in action (provided you have their parents’ consent to do so).
Incorporating the above principles in the daily assessment of your children will help you capture their learning process accurately and gather enough reliable and accurate evidence, which in turn will allow you to analyse each child’s progress in a non-biased manner. Thus, you will be able to successfully use your judgment for planning, for the Progress Check at Two, and for the EYFS Profiles.
Vito Matt is a Curriculum Developer and Instructional Designer for e-learning courses, interactive workshops and conferences, and educational mobile app games.