Navigating the new EYFS: Chapter 3 - Alison Featherbe

How one Early Years consultant helps settings prepare for the new framework
July 28, 2021
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This is Chapter 3 in our 'Navigating the new EYFS' series. In this series, different voices from within the Early Years sector share how they're adapting to the new EYFS framework — and how they'll use the new Famly platform. To read Chapter 2, just click here.

Throughout 35+ years in the Early Years sector, Alison Featherbe has worn a lot of hats.

She’s been a practitioner, a private nanny, a SENCO, an Early Years development officer, EYFS lead, and trained Ofsted inspectors, to name a few roles. For the past six years she’s worked as a consultant within the sector, which has given her a birds’ eye view to watch the new EYFS framework come rolling in. 

Over the past months, she’s been advising dozens of Early Years owners, directors and managers to help them prepare for the new EYFS framework. As she sees things, it’s not just about tackling the small concrete changes, like how we record observations. There are big-picture questions at play, too: It’s time to reflect on what we believe the Early Years is all about, or how our own values meet the work we do in our settings.

“Unlearning is just as hard as learning,” Alison says. “It takes sit-down discussions, it takes soul-searching, and thinking about our values. Policies and procedures will no doubt change, but it’s the mindset — the values, it’s people’s why — that we need to really strengthen.”

Let’s dive into what Alison has to say about the coming changes with the new EYFS framework, and how you can use the new Famly app to take the shifts in your stride.

The big ideas

Alison’s best advice on adjusting to the new EYFS framework

  1. Set aside time to support younger practitioners with observations.
    Moving away from ticklist-focused observations is uncharted territory for newer practitioners. They may need time and support to adjust to making more open-ended observations.
  2. Remember to help parents adjust their expectations, too.
    Communicating with parents to explain the big ideas of the new EYFS will help them shift their expectations away from statement-based tracking.
  3. Explore how Famly can help you take a more holistic approach to recording development.
    The optional “What’s Next” feature and new configuration options in your progress reports are useful tools for capturing a bigger picture of child development.
  4. Think about how you might build your own EY philosophy into your Famly platform.
    With the curriculum builder coming in September, you’ll be able to build your own curriculum into the app, and easily access your notes and learning goals from the observations page.
  5. Adjusting to the new EYFS framework is bigger than your daily practice.
    You’ve got an opportunity to reflect on your own values and focus within the Early Years, and how you express that through your marketing, your website and your communications.

1. Younger staff may need support with more open-ended observations

  • The move from tracking is comforting for lots of  experienced practitioners, but we should remember that younger educators are in uncharted waters.
  • Set aside time for discussions and support sessions as you help newer practitioners adjust.
  • Practitioners need to understand the big-picture ‘why’ behind the work you do.

If you're a 19-year-old apprentice, moving away from tick-lists might feel like someone yanked the rug out from under you.

“We’ve got to remember that young people have been through an education system that completely assesses them all the way through. Assessment is muscle memory for them, so this could be a difficult change,” Alison says.

The updated Famly platform reflects the new EYFS framework’s shift away from statement-based tracking. Observations no longer offer the option to link to specific milestones, but practitioners can still read Development Matters and Birth to Five Matters as reference material while they make observations. This new layout encourages more open-ended observations, which might be unfamiliar for your younger practitioners.

That’s why Alison recommends putting aside time and attention to support your apprentices and new hires as we head into the new school year.

“We need to make opportunities to have discussions and debates, to do some training, and to shift our mindsets about observations and assessments,” she says. “If we don’t understand our team and where they're at, our policies and procedures won’t be deliverable. People need to develop personally before they can develop professionally.” 

2. We’ve got to help parents adjust to the new EYFS framework too

  • We’ve got to help parents change their mindset about assessments and tracking too.
  • Make sure parents understand that learning happens outside of the notifications they get.
  • Sharing at-home activities can help parents see the bigger picture of child development.

Alison points out that the new EYFS will also require parents to rethink their understanding of the Early Years. Specifically, you might need to use a gentle hand to help parents adjust what they expect from you as a provision.

“Parents are used to having this app that always goes, ‘Ding! Your child’s on track. Ding! Your child’s okay.’ We’ve got to transition to a ‘ding!’ that describes a meaningful interaction, or a child’s experience. And that could be tricky, ” she says.

Heading into the new framework, Alison recommends getting closer with the parents in your network. You can do this through Famly’s messaging feature and the News Feed, but the gold standard (if your situation allows) is in-person meetings. This is a chance to help parents understand your values, and how you aim to give children creative, joyful childhood experiences — the sort of things you can’t capture through tick-list learning goals.

You can also use Famly’s Activity Planner to update parents on what you’ve been up to in the setting, adding special things for them to try at home. If you want a lighter touch, there’s the option to share activities from the Famly Activity Library directly in the news feed — a place to search and even add your own activities.

“Giving parents the materials to embed learning at home can help them see that children’s learning journeys are always unfolding, beyond what they get in their news feed,” Alison says. “And when we communicate the why behind the activities and experiences we plan, parents can be confident in our provision.”

3. New features to emphasise children’s whole learning journey

  • “Next Steps” can place too much pressure on practitioners to overstructure children’s learning.
  • You’ve now got more room to choose how to observe and record each child’s learning journey.
  • Famly’s new progress reports screen lets you recognise growth as a big-picture experience, rather than a tidy linear process.

With the update to Famly, we’ve renamed the ‘Next Steps’ section in your observations to ‘What’s Next?’ — and it no longer appears as a default part of every observation.

For Alison, this small detail helps reduce the pressure to constantly pile more tasks onto children. You’ve got more room to make open-ended observations that give children space to lead their own learning.

“Next Steps have been huge for such a long time, but they can be too literal,” she says. “We’ve got to use our gut feelings and instincts about how children learn, and take a more holistic approach to children’s growth and progress.”

This speaks to Famly’s revised progress reports, too. You’ve now got more control over how your assessments look: You can decide to switch off age bands, write your own descriptions to categorise how children are progressing, and even change the ‘progress indicator’ colours on the progress report overview.

Like Alison says, these new configurations make it easier to pick how you’d like to represent children’s growth. You can move away from fitting children into frameworks, and tailor your Famly platform to best reflect your own pedagogy and curriculum.

4. Famly’s curriculum builder: Putting your pedagogy into your platform

  • The new EYFS is an opportunity to reflect on and individualise your own approach to learning.
  • When Famly launches our curriculum builder in September, you can define your own curriculum within the platform, and build it into your observations and assessments.
  • Ultimately, you’ll have more room to exercise your own approach toward child development.

In the coming months, Alison hopes that the new EYFS framework empowers more settings to clearly define their own philosophy toward learning, and shape that into their own curriculum.

“What we’ve got then is really a blank canvas to take the areas of learning, and think about how we want to deliver them in our own provision,” she says. “That’s really exciting — I think it’s an opportunity that we’re not talking enough about.”

In her role as a consultant, Alison has worked with about a half a dozen settings in the past months to help them develop their own aspects of learning, and to clearly define what they want children to learn through their curriculum. 

When Famly launches our curriculum builder in September, it’ll be much easier for you to define and structure your own curriculum, and codify that within the platform for yourself and your team. You can define your own learning areas, and access them as reference material when making observations. That way, every practitioner can always keep in touch with your own setting’s approach to learning, and can see how everyday experiences feed into your core curriculum.

For Alison, this is a big step in the right direction.

“We need more confidence and creativity, and more individual settings that feel able to emphasise their own values and focuses within the Early Years,” she says. “The EYFS is a skeleton, and we’ve got to flesh it out, dress it up and be proud of our unique approaches.”

5. What do we want from the Early Years experience, and how do we deliver it?

  • It’s time to rethink how you present your provision in your external communications.
  • Expect to talk a lot with your team and your parents, to align everyone on where you’re going.
  • The new EYFS framework is a great opportunity to revisit what you believe matters most in the Early Years, and to center that in your practice.

We’re moving into a new framework, with more room to take a compassionate, individual approach toward child development. But as Alison points out, giving the best provision to children is bigger than your curriculum, your practice, or how you use Famly on the day-to-day.

Adjusting to the new EYFS also means reflecting on how you present your setting to your community.

“Of course, we need to know our children, our staff, and our parents. But we say a lot about our philosophy and pedagogy through the way we communicate,” Ruth says. “The way we market, how our website looks, how we write about ourselves, and our first meetings with parents — all of those speak to who we are. They demonstrate our why, and set the bar for parents’ expectations.”

Overall, Alison believes the new EYFS helps us re-focus on what matters most in the Early Years. More than tick-lists and accountability, our ultimate responsibility is to the children.

“We need to think of children’s spirit more than anything. We need to make them realise that they’re an individual person with a special place in the world, and a responsibility to grow from the challenges, activities and experiences we give them. When we do that, we help them with their learning journey for life.”

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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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