Many practitioners in settings across England are now wrestling with the Progress Check at Two - a statutory requirement under the revised Early Years Foundation Stage since 1 September 2012. In settings with a history of providing families with regular summative (snapshot) assessments, the introduction of the check has simply meant some judicious editing of current documents and arranging a face-to-face discussion with parents. In others, however, the assessment - to be completed when a child is between 24 and 36 months - is causing anxiety and confusion.
Some of this anxiety stems from a lack of support. While some settings have received local authority training or a selection of pro-formas on which to base the check, others are relying solely on the national non-statutory guidance, The EYFS Progress Check at Age Two - A know how guide (National Children's Bureau, 2012). Although this document offers good suggestions on how to proceed with the assessment, when used in isolation, it can result in settings in a given area using several formats in various ways and, hence, a lack of consistency for practitioners and families.
We identified these potential problems back in May, when local providers were already asking:
- What do we have to do?
- And who has to do it?
In response, we decided to offer settings a leading role in developing a Progress Check at Two that would meet the needs of all providers, and so ensure we would produce a document owned by those working directly with children, rather than an imposed 'top-down' model.
We felt that only through a comprehensive working group could we develop a truly inclusive document, so we invited health visitors, children's centre staff, childminders, independent nurseries, pack-away pre-schools and a national day nursery chain to participate. Local authority officers with specialisms in inclusion and English as an additional language and an independent facilitator from 4Children were also key to the success of the group.
CONCERNS AND CONCENSUS
At the group's first meeting in early summer, we began to realise the scale of the task ahead. An initial concern, raised by both health visitors and early years providers, was how the current two-year-old health check and the Progress Check would fit together. Other concerns included:
- How easy will any document be to use?
- How will providers explain it to parents?
- Will it create extra work?
- How can children's centres without childcare be involved?
Practical issues were paramount, and as a group we considered:
- What should, and shouldn't, the check include (above and beyond the statutory requirements)?
- What will parents and practitioners need to know and how can this be facilitated?
- What will Ofsted be looking for during inspections?
- How will we be able to demonstrate progress?
It became clear that group members were unhappy with the term 'Progress Check'. Nor did they want to see the document in isolation. There was consensus that the process needed to be a celebration of the Unique Child and a working title for the summative document emerged: 'I am a Unique Child. I am Two: What I can do'.
There was agreement too that the document needed to support information-sharing on the characteristics of effective learning and the three Prime areas of learning and development. Although not statutory within the Progress Check, the characteristics - the 'how' children learn rather than the 'what' - underpin all learning and are of great interest to families.
Eventually, we realised that support materials would need to accompany the summative document if this borough-wide tool were to build a comprehensive picture of a child over time. These included:
- a guide for parents
- a guide for practitioners (how to complete the document)
- Frequently Asked Questions
- an example of the completed documents.
As for the process itself, we realised we would have to address the issue of timing, as nationally, the timing of the Progress Check at Two, in relation to its informing the two-year-old health check, is proving challenging. Our cross-professional working group agreed that the two-year-old health check and Progress Check at Two should complement each other, rather than be viewed in isolation.
To create a more joined-up approach':
- Wokingham health visitors now change the timing of the health check to give early years settings time to complete their part of the process first
- health visitors discuss with parents whether the Progress Check has been completed by a provider or childminder and ask to see it
- early years settings provide each family with three copies of the agreed summary to ensure parents have a copy to place in the red book to share with health visitors.
DOCUMENTS AND FEEDBACK
We decided to keep the summative document to a manageable size of just two pages of A4 paper. On the front is an image of the child at the centre and 'boxed' areas for contributions from the key worker(s) and parent(s). So, all significant information about the three Prime areas and the characteristics of effective learning is summarised on just one side of A4, including boxes entitled 'My family have noticed that ...' and 'My key people have noticed that ...' to ensure key information individual to the child is captured. The second side provides plenty of space in which practitioners and family members can record possible next steps for learning at home and in the setting.
The supporting guidance has run into many pages, with lots of FAQs and clear guidance for practitioners. One particularly useful tool is the information for parents, which sets the scene for two-way sharing of information about each child (see box).
When sub-group members had finalised the development of the guidance and all other aspects of the process, leaders, managers and practitioners undertook a pilot.
Feedback was amazingly positive. Parents were fully involved in the process and spoke about how the guidance had helped them. Settings gave feedback on both the provider documentation and the process. Everyone agreed a new shared knowledge of individual children was beginning to emerge.
Involvement in the working group greatly empowered all those involved. Rather than being passive recipients of a 'top-down product', their active engagement had shaped both the documentation and the whole ethos of the process. Early years settings felt valued and involved, and family workers were able to see how they formed part of the process and how they could support parents and work in partnership with settings.
Group participants have now helped to develop training materials and are co-delivering training with the local authority where possible. This unexpected outcome means that they can draw on their experience of using the documentation to support colleagues at training, which practitioners welcome greatly.
In all, the group has led to the development of a process that will benefit children, families and practitioners and support working together to best meet the needs of every Unique Child.
With thanks to:
- Lorraine Beamish, manager, Bearwood College Nursery
- Suzanne Higginson, childminder
- Kerrie Clifford, manager, Ambleside Centre
- Jacquie Hathaway, Chapel Lane Preschool
- Jen Bourne, Complete Child Care
- Laura Lee, family worker
- Cathy Hogan, health visitor
- Tina Sanger, health visitor
- Judith Stevens - 4Children
- Alison Pugh - early learning adviser *
- Karen Halley - early years inclusion officer*
- Shelagh Sterling -childcare adviser*
- Stuart Milne - early years project officer*
- Shellye Hanson - service manager, Early years Childcare and Play (LA Lead)*
* LA team members
For more information about 'I am a Unique Child. I am Two: What I can do', the supporting documents, information about all those involved and the process behind the development, contact: Shellye Hanson, service manager, Early Years Childcare and Play at Shellye.Hanson@wokingham.gov.uk
For answers to 'Frequently Asked Questions' visit
A TIME TO SHARE: INFORMATION FOR PARENTS
When your child is between the ages of two and three years, you will be invited as the parent/carer to celebrate what your child can do both at home and in the setting.
Although this invitation to share information at this stage in your child's life is a requirement for the setting, we need your support to complete it.
The information that we share will complement and sit alongside the two-year review you are likely to have with your health visitor.
We would like you to tell us:
- what your child likes doing
- what your child is learning or has just learnt
- any new words/sentences, or new ways of communicating
- particular interests and fascinations
- the ways your child explores, learns and plays
- anything else you want to share about your child.
- Make a time convenient for you to share
- Share with you our observations
- Write down our discussion
- Give you copies of the discussion for you and your health visitor
- - Talk about the next steps for your child.