The challenge of taking on new early years leadership roles prompted Pauline Newton and Lydia Wilkins to go on a three-day course on planning and assessment.
One of the biggest changes in practice as a result of the Early Years Foundation Stage has been in the way settings plan, and both practitioners wanted to ensure they were meeting the children's individual needs in this area. The emphasis in the EYFS on child-initiated play and following children's interests means staff no longer operate a timetable of themes and topics that have been mapped out months ahead.
The pair went on a course offered by Early Excellence. Mrs Newton, nursery teacher at Birley Spa Community Primary School, Sheffield, says, 'Previously I had not been so involved with the planning. I was moving into the nursery full-time and it was felt it would help me greatly. I am really glad I went.
'The course helps you look at the larger picture and realise how much of the planning can be linked to your observations of children. Previously I was not the main person putting it all together so it didn't mean quite as much to me. By doing the course and taking on the role of nursery teacher, I now have a greater understanding of linking all areas of planning together.'
Mrs Newton says it has made her team really look at its observations and and ask: why are we doing this observation? What can we do with it now? What can we do now for that individual child and his or her development?
She cites the example of how she and her colleagues used observations of a child who recently joined the nursery to inform their planning.
'We have a little girl who started later than the rest of the intake, as she has just moved to the area,' she says. 'We had done observations on her and discovered she was doing a lot of play by herself. We realised her next step was to start mixing with the other children. So in our planning, we came up with some small group activities so she could be involved with a group and sit down and take part.
'We planned some small group games, particularly listening games, to include her. She is now starting to converse with the other children and adults in nursery. By starting in a small group we helped her build up confidence.'
Mrs Newton reports her planning is now more flexible. 'We are not planning half a term ahead,' she says. 'We look at what the children bring to nursery and what their interests are.
'We also reviewed our continuous provision. Before, we used to add enhancements on a weekly basis, that changed quite frequently. We have revised things so the children have more choice.'
Lydia Wilkins, who recently moved from Key Stage Two to become reception teacher at Scholes Elmet Primary School in Leeds, says the course was inspiring.
'I have two big classrooms and everything needs to be set out so the children can make their choices. I had spent a long, long time setting up the different areas and I was reassured I was on the right track.
'I would now like to do more on outdoor planning. I have only got a small area, so it needs to be used really effectively.'
In the run-up to the launch of the EYFS, there were many courses on planning and assessment and while there are fewer available now, Jenny Woodbridge, director of Early Excellence, says, 'There is still a huge interest in this, as people are developing a more reflective approach to planning.'
She says courses are still needed. 'People are strong at directing children's play but they are not strong at reciprocal relationships and working collaboratively with children, mostly because they have not had that in their initial training. People need to be able to respond to children's interests and ideas, so they have to know a lot about child development.'
She adds, 'We are deeply committed to developing child selfinitiated play. We are trying to move away from medium-term planning to short-term planning as the driver. That does not mean allowing a laissez-faire, free-for-all - you will have planned the environment and documented the continuous provision.'
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
Kathy Brodie, Early Years Professional and trainer, says, 'There is still confusion about planning and assessment and a good course will address that. There is often confusion between long-term planning, which is about continuous provision, and short-term planning, which is informed by observations.
'A good course will go through how you use your observations to do your planning and how often you do your planning. Some people do it weekly and others daily and a course will explain how planning covers the whole curriculum including inclusion and diversity, and how planning needs to be evaluated. It is a working document and it has to cover personalised provision - how to consider the children's individual needs.
'Everyone in a setting needs to be involved in planning. It is an area where managers may be better to hand it over to the practitioners, as they are working closely with the children. They understand the family dynamics and the child's previous learning. Background knowledge is very important when planning, as you need to ensure it is relevant for every child.
'You have to be flexible. If you plan to go outside to look at the frosted spider's web and the children are more interested in the wood louse, you come back in and write across the plan "We planned to look at the spider's web but instead looked at wood louse."
'There is only one formal assessment point in the EYFS, which is at the end, and practitioners have to be specially trained to undertake the EYFS Profile.
'But day-to-day in a setting, with everything you observe and say about a child you are making a judgement. Once you have made your assessment there's masses of information in the Development Matters part of the EYFS guidance on planning the next steps.'
7 May: An Introduction to Documenting Children's Learning led by Paddy Beels, held at Early Excellence, The Old School, Outane, Huddersfield. 01422 311314 www.earlyexcellence.com
13 May: Developing an observation-based approach to assessment and curriculum planning in the Foundation Stage led by Margaret Edgington, held by the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1 0ALT. 020 7612 6589/6987 www.ioe.ac.uk/cpd
24 May: Observing Children's Learning - A Focus on Assessment led by Sue Pearson, held at Early Excellence - details as above
5 July: A Focus on a Framework for Planning led by Sue Pearson, held at Early Excellence - details as above.
Ongoing: Introduction to Observation and Planning for Pre-School Provision held by the Early Years, Northern Ireland, T: 028 6634 2696 www.early-years.org
Ongoing training/workshops: Curriculum Planning and EYFS Training, including planning around children's needs individually and using the learning journey. Based in Carlisle but can be delivered anywhere in the country. T: 01228 538016 www.fmctrainingservices.co.uk
Ongoing: Planning in the EYFS for 20 people, offered by Acorn Childcare; T: 0845 371 0953 or www.childcaretraining.co.uk
Many local authorities are also offering training on all aspects of the planning processes for delivering the EYFS from observation to assessment. The advantage of accessing training arranged by your local early years team is that it is likely to be delivered free, at a convenient time and location, and it will be easier to arrange to follow up best practice ideas with other delegates.
If there is not a suitable course currently available locally, check with your local early years team to see what training they are planning to deliver from September.
Next month: Outdoor provision