I wonder if Ms Stewart has read either the Ofsted ‘Evaluation Schedule’ for inspections (Ofsted document 120086) or any of the recently written Ofsted inspection reports which appear to be requiring childminders to provide more, rather than less evidence, of children’s progress towards the Early Learning Goals?
We only need to think about the poor childminder who was recently told in her inspection report to ask parents if they want a short or long summary of their child’s learning (quoted from a recent inspection report) to recognise that Ofsted inspectors are not fully embracing the ‘less is more’ ethos of new EYFS 2012. Ms Stewart suggests that paperwork should only be produced ‘which is absolutely necessary to promote children’s successful learning and development’. Yet here is just one example of an inspector asking childminders for more - rather than less - documentation!
What is ‘absolutely necessary’ we ask ourselves? I have spoken to a number of childminders and their views vary. Here is a sample of those views:
‘I actually think Nancy Stewart’s article is a little patronising. I think she is be-littling those who choose to do planning, in-depth Learning Journeys etc. I actually take great pride in my planning, observations, Learning Journeys etc, and know the parents of my little ones appreciate it.’
‘There is no need to produce elaborate documentation - however, to meet the requirements of the EYFS 2012 we do need to ensure we are producing enough paperwork to show children are progressing well towards the Early Learning Goals because this is what Ofsted are grading us against.’
‘I found at my last inspection that the inspector asked me questions which I couldn't answer in full because we were in the garden and a child wanted to go down the slide, so I thought I had better stand nearby and I didn't get a chance to explain my answer properly. Maybe if I had had more evidence in my planning folder of equal opportunities and diversity and celebrations I wouldn't have needed to worry.’
‘I go to pieces at inspection - if it’s not written down then I don’t stand a hope of selling myself effectively. We are not nurseries where other staff can get on with looking after the children while we talk to an inspector - we have to do it all’.
‘A lot of people have been dong a lot of completely unnecessary paperwork for the last four years’.There are many other considerations as well with the revised EYFS and new style inspections. For example, there is a big focus on sharing information with parents and supporting children to learn at home in the EYFS 2012. I would like to ask Ms Stewart how childminders might show evidence of achieving this if they do not have written evidence of parents comments being used to guide future planning and feed into the children’s time in the provision. Ofsted inspectors will rarely arrive at 7.30 or 8am to chat to parents - who will be rushing off to work and unable to give comprehensive replies anyway - so one wonders where they will gather this evidence if it is not documented.
Plus, of course, the EYFS 2012 asks childminders to provide even more documentation than the 2008 version. We have to write a two- year progress check… we are told we must plan ‘educational programmes’ for the children and show how these impact on children’s outcomes… we must use the characteristics of effective learning to make judgements about how children learn… all this before we start thinking about providing evidence of self evaluation, continuous professional development and the essential paperwork needed to ensure we are meeting the Safeguarding and Welfare requirements of the EYFS.
There are then those childminders who fall apart during inspection like my colleague above and many others. These childminders are unable to verbalise how they observe, assess and plan for the children’s needs because they are too busy trying to focus on the children themselves - who are busy playing up because they know their childminder is nervous and there is a visitor in the house. For these childminders written documentation is essential as it provides evidence of how they work.
I agree with my colleagues - elaborate documentation is not necessary. However, in order to meet all the requirements of the EYFS 2012 I do feel that throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a dangerous suggestion. Perhaps Ms Stewart should instead direct her comments at Ofsted inspectors rather than beleaguered childminders with a focus on the final statement in her article ‘every Ofsted inspector needs to let go of the insistence on a paper trail’.
Sarah Neville is a childminder in Knutsford, Cheshire