early years foundation stage

Early Years Foundation Stage: It's Not a Checklist!

In the last few years, assessment in early years seems to have exploded to unmanageable levels and some teachers are highlighting, ticking, cutting, sticking and squeezing children into boxes (not literally).

If you remember the first version of the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2008, you will recall Development Matters and at the bottom of every page was the footnote, ‘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.’

This seems to have been lost recently and the concept of a ‘best fit’ approach is alien to many new early years teachers. This is unfortunate as we now see next steps planned for that do not fully support children’s learning as they are dependent on other developmental factors.

For example, planning the next steps in speaking could depend on a child’s physical development, planning the next steps in reading could depend on a child’s listening and understanding, etc. There are so many variables to consider that some schools have now started to make better sense of the Early Years Foundation Stage documentation by cutting and pasting (true early years style) to make it fit together.

For example, they are starting by combining the assessment of children’s progress in writing with their progress in physical development instead of seeing them as two different areas of development with no relation. This has enabled them to plan for the next steps in a far more meaningful way, and they now provide the physical development necessary for children to become good writers.

Keeping your eye on the end goal

Another aspect that appears to have been lost is the ‘eye on the goal.’ Teachers are sometimes caught unawares when they get to the end of the year and notice that, in some areas of learning, there is a massive leap from the statements in the 40-60 age band compared to the early learning goal.

When teachers have an eye on the endpoint for children and have a clearly defined starting point, as indicated by the observations they have done when children enter their classroom, they can determine the learning pathway for most children. For some children, this pathway will be long. It will initially consist of securing development in the prime areas of learning or giving children experiences and role models they may not have experienced.

Some children may not have seen adults reading or writing for pleasure or may not be used to high-quality, face-to-face communication, and this will be their starting point.

As the original Foundation Stage document pointed out (pink folder for those that remember it), ‘Children do not come into school in a neat package of social, emotional, physical and intellectual development. During the early years, physical and social development will vary enormously from child to child. The strategies used in learning and teaching should vary and be adapted to suit the child's needs.’

One of the best approaches is to start with the end in mind. In ‘Planning for Rapid Progress in the Early Years,’ each segment of the goal is defined and then tracked back through the ages and stages so that teachers can clearly assess and plan for progress against each segment of each goal.

Early Years Development Goals

I have also noticed that the very best teachers have a good knowledge of child development milestones (not just the areas of learning as defined by the Early Years Foundation Stage) and will talk about physical, intellectual, emotional, social and language development as well as schemas, stages of play and the development of the brain.

They have a good knowledge of excellent early years practice, like sustained shared thinking, and they know the themes and principles of good early years practice. This got me thinking about the potential limitations of Development Matters and Early Years outcomes and led to the development of the ‘Key Assessment Criteria for Nursery and Reception’ (or ‘I Can – Nursery,’ and ‘I Can – Reception). These two publications contain the key aspects of Development Matters but are supplemented with information from child development milestones; again, they are not to be used as a checklist but as a best-fit indicator.

If used appropriately, they can also support the assessment of children’s progress into key stage 1. They also break down the characteristics of effective learning into significant indicators to aid the assessment and planning of experiences to support development in these dispositions.

It has long been the belief of excellent early years teachers that the early learning goals are not a ‘wish’ for children but an entitlement and all teachers should be striving to ensure children reach a good level of development in preparation for their statutory education.

In my opinion, this goes beyond just meeting the goals in the prime areas or personal, social and emotional development, communication and language development and physical development and the specific areas of literacy and mathematics and also must include the characteristics of effective learning and basic non-negotiable criteria as agreed between the reception and year 1 teachers.

It must be pointed out here that the goals are also a ‘best fit’ attainment measure. It is the responsibility of the teachers and staff who know the children well to decide whether the child has attained a good level of development and is ready and able to access statutory education. They are not checklists.

Continue the Conversation

You can browse more about Early Years through Focus Education’s website or stay tuned for more from me on the blog. As ever, Focus Education is available for questions, comments and suggestions: email us or give us a call on 01457 821 818.

Focus Education Early Years Resources


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