The most rewarding part of being an Early Years educator is celebrating the achievements of the children in your care. However, the more time you spend documenting those achievements, the less time you have to actually observe, scaffold, and provide opportunities for them.
Summative assessments in the Early Years Foundation Stage can be a source of excessive paperwork and a drain on educators' time. But they don't have to be.
Instead of arbitrary levels, age bands, or statement-based tracking, you can make assessments a celebration of what children have learned and experienced.
In this story, we'll take a look at what that looks like in practice, and how you can make those techniques muscle memory.
Let's get into it.
Despite what you might think, you don't have to do any written assessments at all, apart from the 2-year progress check (and the Reception Baseline Assessment and Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, if you're a reception teacher).
In regards to written assessments specifically, the EYFS says that "when assessing whether an individual child is at the expected level of development, practitioners should draw on their knowledge of the child and their own expert professional judgement and should not be required to prove this through the collection of physical evidence."
Ofsted echoes this by reminding providers that they will not "advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment."
Essentially, you can do as much or as little written observation and assessment as you and the children in your setting need, as long as you:
Assessments should be celebrations of learning and achievements that focus on children's interests and strengths. They should be used to share and recognise children's development with their parents or carers and the child themself.
Written summative assessments should be informed by the ongoing formative assessment and observations you make in your everyday practice. They should also include any barriers to learning, including any support the child needs to access the curriculum.
Parents' and carers' observations should form part of a summative assessment as well as comments made by the child, where possible.
The EYFS describes what must be included in the progress check at age 2, and this is a really useful template for further assessments.
It says that the check should:
If you do choose to make written assessments of the development and learning of children in your setting, the most important thing to consider is whether your assessment of a child's development could actually get in the way of it.
Having an experienced educator present during children's learning experiences, to extend and scaffold their play is much more valuable to children's development than the same educator locked in the office writing assessments.
Because of this, you might consider doing summative assessments no more than once a term.
In the changes to the EYFS in 2021, and the new EIF from Ofsted, reducing paperwork has been at the centre. Ofsted themselves say they do not require providers to "prepare any performance and children-tracking information for Ofsted."
This means you do not need to make any extra assessments or gather tracking evidence for Ofsted.
Top of the list of things to leave out of your assessments are the Early Learning Goals — because for most Early Years settings, these won't be relevant yet. Each child’s level of development must be assessed against the early learning goals only in reception classes (at the end of the year) to form the EYFP.
The next to leave out are curriculum statements from Development Matters or Birth to Five Matters. Either as 'levels' that have been ticked off, or as next steps, leave the statements in the guidance where they belong.
Children develop at different speeds and in different ways. Age banding linked to the curriculum guidance above is not always a useful way to determine a child's progress. What's more, if a child has a SEND, giving them a 'younger' age band, based on curriculum statements, won't inform how you scaffold their learning, as they aren't a younger child.
You should discuss concerns about a child's learning or development with parents on an ongoing basis, based on a good relationship and strong partnerships. A written assessment shouldn’t be the first place parents discover a concern or delay - this is a conversation to be had face-to-face.
To return to the EYFS, "Assessment plays an important part in helping parents, carers and practitioners to recognise children’s progress, understand their needs, and to plan activities and support. " but, "Assessment should not entail prolonged breaks from interaction with children, nor require excessive paperwork."
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.