To the Point - A hostage to paperwork?

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It's time to sweep away layers of paperwork along with the autumn leaves, with the EYFS now telling us to limit paperwork.

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Surprisingly, though, instead of leaping at this new opportunity many practitioners are hanging on to varying forms of constant written observations and elaborate learning journals, and are busily developing or buying commercial checklists against predefined statements. Why? It reminds me of the syndrome that can lead kidnapped hostages to identify with their tormentors so that they don't want to be freed when rescue arrives.

The EYFS now explicitly says paperwork should be limited to 'that which is absolutely necessary to promote children's successful learning and development'.

What will we clear out from existing practices? A child's individual file filled with photos and observations may be a lovely record and appreciated by parents, but an early years practitioner's job is not as an archivist. Ongoing observation/assessment/planning is the core of early years practice, but this does not mean this it is written. This process happens thousands of times a day when we interact with children, with only a tiny sample recorded.

The key question is: What difference do records make? Do they support discussions about learning with parents, or sharing with the child to talk about their learning? If so, could they serve these purposes in a slimmed-down form? Do the written notes help us to remember significant moments, and clarify our thinking?

Practitioners are asking anxious questions.

How will they be able to prove children are making progress? How much evidence will they be expected to have? These concerns grow from the threat of judgements by Osted

Practitioners need to trust the evidence they hold in their minds, and become confident in using best-fit judgements instead of checklists to understand children's progress. And every Ofsted inspector needs to let go of the insistence on a paper trail.

Nancy Stewart is an associate of Early Education.

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