Change isn't always easy, even if it's for the right reasons.
A new EYFS is coming, and with it, we too are bringing about some bold changes to the way you observe and assess children in Famly. But these changes come with a lot of confusion and questions. How much documentation is too much? Should I change my assessments? What about next steps?
Luckily, help is at hand.
"We've been through change", explains Charlotte Bateman, the group operations officer at Little Barn Owls, a Horsham-based, farm and forest nursery group. "We've been through the barriers people worry about, made mistakes, tweaked, improved. We’ve gotten it wrong before we got it right, and we want to share what we've learned with other settings."
And now, Charlotte and her team are feeling ready for these new changes too. A history of 'outstanding' Ofsted reports, and their recent accolade of 'UK Nursery Group of the Year' tells part of the Little Barn Owls story, but it's the journey to get there that really demonstrates who they are.
We’ll walk you through Charlotte and Kerry’s advice for navigating change in general, and explore how they’re tackling this latest transition to the new EYFS.
But before we go in-depth, here’s a look at Charlotte’s top insights to help you manage the coming changes,
"Right from the first meeting, we tell parents 'We're in partnership' - it's one of our key values," says Charlotte.
At Little Barn Owls, they make at least one observation, per child, per day often in the form of group observations. Not only does this inform planning, and build a picture of the child’s development, but it’s a commitment to strengthen parent partnership with the setting. When parents come to collect their children, they already know what they've been up to at nursery, so they can greet their child and talk about what they've been doing straight away.
To support parents in getting started with communicating through Famly, Little Barn Owls send familiar resources home with children. Recently, Kerry tells me, the baby room children were sent home with treasure baskets that they play with at nursery, so parents have a jumping off point for observing at home. They found that the more their staff interact with parents' posts and observations, in Famly and in planning, the more inspired and confident other parents feel to contribute too, as they can see their effort is recognised.
The removal of statement-based tracking, and Ofsted’s shift away from looking at paperwork towards observing more real practice, are positive steps towards improving the sector. But you’re still allowed to write things down.
Here’s what Charlotte and her team think makes for meaningful documentation:
Documentation can also support practitioners in the moment. Famly now has curriculum guidance, such as Birth to Five Matters and Development Matters, alongside observations and assessments. Now you can no longer link to individual statements, the guidance is "literally just what it was intended for - a supporting document - to support your practice,” Charlotte says.“You're using it to write your observation, not just tick a box.”
Another way Little Barn Owls keep practice consistently great, is by utilising laminated 'prompts', kept in an apron worn by educators, supporting them with emergent planning and extending children's learning. Charlotte and Kerry want to add these prompts to the reference material section in Famly - something which you’ll be able to do come September. "If we're able to have that on the same digital page as the actual observation, I think that could be really useful”, says Charlotte.
"I think this is a really great tool to enable more real high-quality interactions"
Without documenting at least some things, "you won't remember the real magic," says Charlotte. Charlotte and Kerry are thinking they’ll use the new ‘What’s next’ boxes to feed into their ‘sprint’ planning meetings, where the educators use their written observations from the day to plan what to provide for children tomorrow.
Charlotte explains that the point of reflecting on 'what's next' is to discover how to adapt the enabling environment, choose the resources to provide, and note what the key person's responsibilities are.However, it's too often interpreted as 'What can the child not do?'", or as a target for the child to reach.
During the children’s ‘Proposal Time’ each morning, Little Barn Owls educators explain what’s on offer in the setting (based on their sprint meeting the previous evening) and children plan their day themselves. “I think [the changes] will really get practitioners to find a way that fits for them, so they can move forward, away from a tick-box-based planning system.” says Charlotte
Little Barn Owls create termly assessments of their children, and use this time to audit their journeys for the 7 areas of learning. The new assessment builder in Famly inspired Charlotte and Kerry to think about how they can customise their assessments to the children and parents at their settings. Charlotte explains that it’s important for practitioners to be able flag an area of learning for extension or support, and communicate this with parents, without worrying them unduly.
“If anything comes up red, or amber, or anything that isn’t ‘exceeding’ or ‘on target’, it panics parents”. Charlotte says, “So it’s good that we can have our own terminology in there" (as well as their own choice of colours). Being able to tailor these options in assessments means that it will also still be possible to monitor by cohort, another way Little Barn Owls check in on progress.
Acknowledgement of progress can also be a great way to support practitioners in their practice. Often, Charlotte tells me, Little Barn Owls find that their educators aren’t “singing their teaching” enough. Through Famly, "We get to see a stream of how educators are understanding and articulating childrens' learning, and on a daily basis, we can give them feedback." Little Barn Owls makes sure to share with practitioners when their practice is amazing, ensuring they feel recognised and inspired to keep up the great work.
The new EYFS framework admittedly doesn’t present a huge change for Little Barn Owls’ existing ways of working. But that's not to say they don't know the work that goes into change. Leaders must have conviction, and have the bravery to stick to what they've chosen to do.
More practically, it's a great idea to set out how each member of the team can contribute too, so that everyone feels like the changes belong to them.. To tackle changes, such as those outlined in the new EYFS framework, Charlotte advises:
Little Barn Owls speak with confidence in their practice, but how can other settings inspire such confidence, especially when practitioners might be feeling uncertain about changes to the EYFS? "You've got to know why you're doing what you're doing" says Charlotte, "Why have we chosen to be who we are and do what we do?". The 'why' informs every part of your practice, so "figure out your values, your ethos- ask 'what is it we're trying to do here?'". Once you've got that, you can audit every part of your practice to ensure it reflects it.
Little Barn Owls are confident in their knowledge of the children in their care, but articulating how children are developing, without the ‘comfort blanket’ of statement-based tracking, can be daunting for any setting. "It's not just about knowing your key children, it's about being able to articulate that too,” explains Charlotte, “you have to be able to say it out loud”. As with any element of your practice you want to work on, the key is putting the time in. Recently, Little Barn Owls focussed their Continuous Professional Development day on articulating their knowledge of children for exactly this reason, using role playto practice articulating their knowledge of children in a safe space.
"It's really simple" says Charlotte "We didn't know what the changes in Famly were going to look like...but it just looks like what it is. No more statement-based tracking"
While a lot goes on behind the scenes to make changes to Famly, Charlotte is essentially right. Charlotte and Kerry are brimming with ideas about how to customise the new assessments, add their own reference material, and utilise the 'What's next' box in observations, which is exactly what we're hoping for - settings using Famly as a tool to support their unique great practice, in the way that best suits them.
"It's really simple" says Charlotte "We didn't know what the changes in Famly were going to look like..but it just looks like what it is, no more statement-based tracking"
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.