How should you approach assessments with the new EYFS?

Here are six tips to make it simple.
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October 13, 2021
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In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • In this story, Early Years teacher Adam Marycz offers his best advice on how you can approach summative assessments, now that we’re working with the new EYFS framework.
  • The EYFS reforms prompt a shift in how we think about children’s growth and hopefully will improve outcomes. But it’s important to remember that the way children grow and learn remains the same.
  • Many of the same old skills and effective learning strategies you’ve been using across the seven areas are still relevant in the new framework, you might just have to tweak how you use them. Read on to find out how.

The transition we’re all currently experiencing is confusing and overwhelming sometimes. We knew this was coming, especially the early adopters, but a change of this magnitude means a lot of readjustments. I am sure you, like me, had plans for how the reforms would work in practice, only for the day to arrive and you realise it’s not as simple to implement as you’d hoped. And one of those areas has been assessments and progress tracking.

So as we move away from tick-lists, how do we rethink the way we measure children’s growth?

During this piece I aim to use my experiences over 12+ years in Early Years, working as an educator, manager and Early Years Teacher to provide practical tools to help inform the assessments you make, and monitor the progress and development of your children. 

Below, we’ll look at the six methods I have built over the years to help build up the best possible holistic picture of a child. I hope these will mean that whatever progress monitoring process you develop in your setting, you feel confident you are being as thorough and accurate as possible.

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What is a summative assessment?

‘Summative assessment’ describes assessments that practitioners complete for children at certain developmental stages throughout the Early Years Foundation Stage. You’re likely familiar with summative EYFS assessments like the two-year check, or the reception baseline assessment and EYFS profile (assessment against the Early Learning Goals). These give a holistic picture of a child’s knowledge, development, and skills.

Pre-reception Early Years settings over the years have typically completed a baseline assessment when a child first joins, and a final summative assessment before a child leaves to join Reception, using their professional judgement. However, this has been considered good practice rather than being a statutory requirement in the Early Years foundation stage. Whether summative assessments are completed in addition to the three statutory assessments depends on the preference of each individual setting, alongside other decisions such as how many documented observations are collected on each child and how often. 

Summative assessments are different from formative assessments, which are the regular, day-to-day assessments you use to inform your planning, provision, and Early Years practice.   

When else should you be monitoring progress and development? 

In a sentence, it’s up to you.

Thanks, in part, to the revised EYFS, gone are the days when Early Years practitioners were expected to complete multiple tick-list style assessment documents or ‘tracking.’ If you’d like to know why, Famly has put together an excellent documentary, The EYFS Tracking Lie, to explain just that.

Now, individual Early Years providers decide how and when children’s development and progress should be monitored, using their choice of curriculum guidance. In short, it's a great time to review your assessment procedures.

In my setting for example (which, for context, offers term-time Pre-School provision for children aged 2-5), we will be baselining children within their first half-term to note their starting points, then re-evaluating more formally halfway through the academic year and again at the end. 

During the rest of the year, we’ll be observing children against the new (non-statutory) Development Matters observation checkpoints. Down below, you’ll find my toolkit of how to make this monitoring as genuine, meaningful, and representative as can be.

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Six tricks to help you monitor children’s progress and development 

Regularly monitoring progress for each child across the seven areas of learning can seem daunting. It can be a challenge to feel confident that you have built up a broad and accurate picture of a child’s knowledge and skills. 

Here are six methods I use to make all that easier: 

  • 1 - Make regular opportunities for one-on-one interactions with every child. It might sound simple, but one of the most effective ways to get to know and understand your children is by interacting with them, whether it’s one-to-one or in group situations. It’s likely that during these interactions you will observe children displaying their wide range of skills and the depths of their knowledge, so you can really understand their learning and development. These interactions will feed directly into points 2, 3 and 4.
  • 2- Record your observations on a digital platform. Especially when you’re logging day-to-day observations, it’s more and more common to do so through a digital platform like Famly. These can make it easier to monitor and reflect on progress and development by considering how your observations fit within the curriculum guidance such as the new Development Matters checkpoints (or Birth to 5 Matters).

    In my own practice, I primarily use these observations as part of our planning process. But when you document assessments through a digital management system, it’s easier to refer to them when you’re working on those bigger, more formal assessments. With a system like Famly, for example, you’ll be able to pull up your observation logs and progress recordings quickly, which can help give you that big-picture understanding of where children are at in their document.
  • 3 - Know that learning is happening, even when you don’t document it. It’s important to remember that your documentation isn’t the full picture of a child’s learning — and that’s okay. Each day for children is full of learning moments. There are things you witness hundreds of times a day but do not document formally or informally. They can involve other educators, or simply be the children learning independently using the resources included within your provision. Remembering these moments can help relieve the pressure of thinking it’s only your own observations that paint the full picture of children’s growth.
  • 4 - Trust your knowledge as an educator. The new EYFS guidance encourages educators to use their own experience and instinct about what’s considered ‘typical’ child development. Don’t lose sight of just how much you know about children, and how they grow and learn.

    When you look at progress reports or digital, summarized reports on children’s progress, it can be easy to think that’s the be-all, end-all record of learning. And while these records are useful for reference and record-keeping, you also know that not every part of early childhood learning fits neatly in a box. It is therefore essential you see these documented observations as only one part of the assessment picture rather than the biggest piece in the jigsaw. 
  • 5 - Invite parents to share their knowledge, too. Depending on the type of provision you offer, certain observation checkpoints and developmental milestones can be hard to measure. For example, a frequent struggle of mine is observing a child’s ability to move up and down a set of stairs. For questions like these, it’s essential you communicate regularly with parents about their child’s development and use their input to inform your monitoring.

    These days, one big way of communicating with parents is through the messaging feature on your child care management platform. This offers a simple way to share text and photos back and forth, to give you a broader picture of children’s growth at home.

    This parental input is also particularly important when first baselining children when they join your setting. It can also be helpful, when children join the setting or transition between rooms, to give out ‘All about me’ sheets to gain information when the children first start. The sheets I use in my setting include questions about a child’s interests and personal information such as their food likes and dislikes and information about their family. You can find an example on my website, if you’re interested.

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  • 6 - Try to share what you know with other professionals and settings. Children who attend your provision may have moved from other settings or may attend another provider alongside yours. For these children, it’s likely there will be other assessments, progress monitoring and reports from these settings. 
    There are many examples of different information which could be available to collect from other agencies, professionals or the local authorities. These include: 

    - Two-year check completed by the health visitor
    - Any progress monitoring completed by another Early Years setting 
    - Reports from health professionals such as speech and language therapists 
    - Social workers or family support workers 

    Collecting all this information is important if you believe a child could benefit from additional support from other agencies / professionals, especially disadvantaged children. You can also use this information as a supporting tool to assist the children to settle in, as well as helping to inform activity planning and any enhancements you can make to the provision based upon their interests and developmental milestones. 

    I acknowledge that accessing information held by others can be challenging. Contacting busy professionals is often the biggest barrier to effective information sharing. In my experience I have found that an initial phone call to introduce yourself and discuss the nature of your request followed by a follow-up email confirming arrangements made is the best approach. 

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Some final thoughts...

It can be easy to become fixated on collecting documented evidence and using it as the most significant way of monitoring progress and development of an individual child. I know I have been guilty previously of believing if there isn’t tangible evidence such as linked observations in learning journals, then parents or carers or other professionals will not believe your assessments. 

However, I would argue that one of the most important changes in the new EYFS guidance is the importance that is placed upon the child development knowledge of educators, specifically a child’s key person. The key person knows the child best within your setting, with equal weight being placed on the knowledge of parents. That is why I believe, if you ask the right questions of parents, they too are able to play a pivotal role in understanding a child’s stage of development. 

The big ideas

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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