Assessment of early learning goals doesn't provide an 'honest picture', says physical development expert

According to Lala Manners, the assessment criteria of the early learning goals for physical development are too subjective and must be addressed.

Following on from plans announced by the Department for Education (DfE) last September to revise the Early Learning Goals and reduce the number that are assessed in the EYFS Profile, Dr Manners, director of Active Matters, said that the assessment criteria should be made more rigorous to gain a more ‘honest picture’ of where children are in terms of their physical development.

Children are assessed against the EYFS Profile in the final term of the year in which they reach the age of five.

The two early learning goals for physical development are 'moving and handling', and 'health and self-care'.

Dr Manners, who spoke about the issue at the Action for Children Munch 'n' Move event this week, explained, ‘The assessment criteria for physical development generally is woefully inadequate. In practice, it depends on very subjective interpretation. In a recent workshop, when I asked practitioners what they thought "good control", "moving with confidence", "safely negotiating space" actually looked like the range of answers was astonishing. It is hardly surprising with this amount of wriggle room that practitioners say most children are at an "expected level" of development.’

Under the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP), children are thought to be at an ‘expected level’ of development for the Early Learning Goal of moving and handling if they ‘show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.’

Children are exceeding the goal if they can ‘hop confidently and skip in time to music. They hold paper in position and use their preferred hand for writing, using a correct pencil grip. They are beginning to write on lines and control letter size.’

Dr Manners argued that the description for ‘exceeding’ does not bear any relation to that of the ‘expected’ level, with neither supporting children’s physical health/well-being.

She said, ‘Music is suddenly introduced, why? And as for including handwriting, this is very questionable.

‘Bearing in mind that these children will be five-rising six as they enter Year 1, hopping and skipping/handwriting is hardly "exceeding". 90 per cent of girls will skip quite fluently by 5.6 years, for boys it is around 55 per cent. Handwriting is no doubt good for the fine motor co-ordination, but it is hardly designed to support physical well-being.’

‘Overall, "exceeding" should be aspirational – something that should really matter to teachers that their children achieve. At present it is simply ignored.'

Dr Manners recommends the following changes to the assessment:

  • ‘Exceeding’ should be amended to include strength, balance, co-ordination, agility and speed.
  • Children should be assessed on fundamental movement skills – rolling, crawling, jumping, running, hopping, hanging by their arms and legs, their speed/change of direction, their negotiation of obstacles, stop-start.
  • They should be assessed on climbing, up a frame/bars, pulling along a bench/table to determine their upper body strength.
  • Children should perform a short sequence of movements with and without music to test their co-ordination and steady-beat competence.
  • Children’s ball skills should be assessed, throwing, catching, kicking and aiming to determine their co-ordination, balance and timing.

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