This is Chapter 4 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 3, just click here.
At the centre of the White City Estate, Randolph Beresford Early Years Centre and Vanessa Nursery School supports a community of 22 different languages. Over a third of the 139 children have a special educational need or disability, and many of the children are eligible for free school meals. It was the recognition, support, and inclusion of this unique cohort of families that won Randolph Beresford the Nursery World Award for Most Inclusive Practice, in 2019, as well as an ‘Outstanding’ from Ofsted.
That’s why we knew we had to sit down with executive headteacher Michele Barrett to give us a different perspective - on how this unique setting is embracing the new EYFS with inclusion, Famly, and a delight at the emerging focus on impact over evidence.
“If a child is struggling to do something, and you’re ignoring them to write about it, it’s not benefiting their wellbeing.”
In the time it took to write something down what a child needs help with, you could have helped them to do it. What’s more, taking this approach means children learn they can go to their key person for support, which strengthens the relationship too.
“We want the children to know that it’s OK that you can’t do something, because they can try to have a go, and then someone can show them. We all fail at things, but it’s not a negative, it’s because we haven’t learned to do them yet,” Michele says.
Some of Michele’s practitioners had begun to feel anxiety about writing up the long observations and evaluations the team were doing previously. But, like the new EYFS, Michele tells her staff to keep writing time to a minimum, encouraging her team to pop short observations on Famly later on in the day.
“Imagine you were on the phone to that parent,” Michele has been telling her team, “Write the observation like that. Just note down what happened”.
The team found that parents also preferred the new, shorter observations they received through Famly (often with a photo), because they can share a comment about what the child has been doing at home.
Michele recommends assessing as a team, in discussion about the child.
“You’re getting a better picture that way, as different people see different things”, she explains.
Once every half-term, the team leader in each room will arrange a meeting, after most of the children have left, looking at progress and assessment. The team use the observations recorded in Famly and their notes from the evaluation meetings they have each day. If some staff are still caring for children who stay for extended sessions, they share their information with the team leader before the meeting, so all team members’ perspectives can be included in the discussion. Inclusivity applies to everyone at Michele’s settings.
Since beginning to record development in Famly, Michele has noticed that the simplicity of creating observations has meant that her teams are sharing more with one another. As it’s so quick to note down what a child has learned, they can share what they’ve seen each others’ key children achieving. The team are also taking more photos and making group observations, leading to a much more rounded view of each child’s development and progress than before.
Taking into account how parents feel is key to building up a trusting relationship between them and the setting, which is why Michele is pleased with the new default phrasing for assessments in Famly (‘Progressing well’, ‘Give more support’ or ‘Needs special support’). When discussing a possible developmental issue with parents, language needs to be non-threatening and focus on supporting development, rather than what a child can’t yet do.
“It tells us exactly what we need to know, but it’s not scary for parents either.” says Michele.
At Randolph Beresford, they have a modern take on the Froeblian approach. It means they never want to just tick a box and move on, preferring to always focus on deep learning.
“We don’t need to rush children through things,” says Michele, “it’s about deep learning and understanding. You have to be able to listen and hear the difference between a car alarm and a bird, before you can move on and recognise phonics.”
A good example of this progression is how they build up to following a recipe. To begin with, children get the opportunity to begin experimenting with combining all kinds of materials. Next they can mix ingredients together with an adult, then use visuals to see what needs to be added, before they move onto mixing playdough independently.After that, finally they’re ready to follow a proper recipe for a cake.
“Following a recipe was chosen to enable the children to follow a process through to the end. So much of young children’s learning is about the process, not the product, but we believe that children also need to know that a product is sometimes useful and that a process does not just end randomly” explains Michele.
Every evening, when each classroom meets to evaluate the day, the team discuss the learning that’s happened, share observations, and plan for children’s explorations going forward.
However, the setting’s ‘core experiences’ remain constant, with ongoing additions to build on skills. A home corner, for example, may stay roughly the same, but have books and writing materials added to extend learning. In an area of such high deprivation, this confidence in knowing that something familiar won’t just disappear can be especially important, and demonstrates how the team designs their provision with their specific cohort in mind.
“We are aware that not all children have the same experiences outside of nursery, to enable their interests to develop fully into learning experiences,” Michele explains. Randolph Beresford’s focus on nature and the environment (through their forest school), is just one way the settings’ curriculum reflects the cohort and location of the settings.
Children are given the opportunity to climb trees, build with wood, and risk assess their own outdoor activities. This is a linchpin in the settings’ curriculum, as it gives them the skills to notice the difference between a good and bad choice themselves.
A high number of SEND children, especially children with specific speech, language, and communication needs, leads the settings curriculum to focus heavily on inclusivity and supportive relationships. Each week, the SENCo joins the team’s daily evaluation meeting, to discuss inclusive provision for children with additional or complex needs, as well as children under Child Protection or Child In Need plans. Once a month, the setting’s psychologist joins each classroom’s evaluation meeting, to discuss children presenting with particular emotional needs, to support each team’s inclusive practice.
Children with individual care or development plans are not ‘sent off’ to complete their activities alone, or just with their key person, but rather their care plans are included in the main curriculum, so these children are completing their activities amongst their friends. This promotes peer-to-peer learning and strengthens their relationships. The settings also share a speech and language activity in the Famly News Feed every two weeks, so every family can benefit from it.
Vanessa Nursery and Randolph Beresford Early Years Centre mold their parental communications around respect for the children. “When children are here, this is their space,” explains Michele. The settings share a weekly post for parents on the News Feed in Famly, with a brief overview of what the children have been doing, but young children listen to everything, so take the time to think about how you feed back about their individual day.
“I could think of nothing worse at the end of a lovely day at nursery, standing next to the legs of your parent and key person while they discuss how you went to the toilet,” says Michele,
Children’s care routines can be added in Famly, meaning practitioners can focus on sharing the real highlights of a day, or letting children do this themselves.
Michele says that Vannessa and Randolph Beresford parents often ask what they can do at home to support their children, so they’ll use the “What’s next?” (formerly ‘Next Steps’) box in observations, to give them manageable pointers or activities to try at home, as well as letting parents know what they’ll be doing at the setting.
“It’s nice for parents to see the areas of learning, but not the age bands,” Michele says, “as that can be demoralising, or worrying.”
Michele says she looks forward to the broad and unique curriculums that the changes to the EYFS will inspire, and an end of statement-based tracking once and for all! Michele says that even Ofsted previously asked for this type of evidence, despite every page of the old Development Matters stating it was not to be used as a ticklist. However, Michele believes the new way of doing things makes expectations around paperwork that much clearer, and she sums it up perfectly. “There is no responsibility to provide that type of evidence any more,” she says. “And all of that stuff going away, means staff can be in the moment with children.”
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.