Assessment of PD: something isn't adding up

Dr Lala Manners
Thursday, November 13, 2014

How can 86 per cent of children achieve an ‘expected’ level for PD in the EYFS Profile when 90 per cent have woeful levels of physical activity, asks Dr Lala Manners, director, Active Matters

Statistics rarely – if ever – tell the whole story. Mostly this is known and accepted – we fill in the back history ourselves based on experience and level of expertise in the chosen field. It is when their unreliability has the potential to harm that we should be extremely concerned and start asking some pretty searching questions.

We have a situation concerning Early Years Physical Development in which two sets of statistics flatly contradict each other.

First: Based on the 2011 Early Years Physical Activity Guidelines we know that only 9 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls aged two to four years in England are meeting the current guidelines for physical activity for children under five years of three hours per day. So, nearly 90 per cent of our youngest citizens are not experiencing a level of daily physical activity that would support their overall healthy development and well-being.

Second: The ‘Early Years Foundation Stage Profile results in England 2013/14’ have just been released (

To quote: ‘The highest proportion of children achieving at least the expected level is in the physical development area of learning. Eighty-six per cent of children achieved at least the expected level in all early learning goals within the PD area of learning. This is an increase of 3% from 2013 when this area also had the highest proportion achieving expected.’

How can 86 per cent of children achieve an ‘expected’ level for Physical Development – when 90 per cent experience woeful levels of physical activity?

There are three possible reasons for this conundrum:

  • The Early Learning Goals 4 and 5 for PD are inadequate and not fit for purpose
  • Practitioners are unsure what they are assessing – or why
  • The assessment process itself is inherently flawed

Early Learning Goal 04 MOVING AND HANDLING states that :

‘Children 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.’

Guidelines should be just that – a guide to practice – and interpretation, adaptation and accommodation are obviously part and parcel of daily practice. The problem here is that the ‘room for interpretation’ has led to a complete misrepresentation of what we know to be happening on the ground. Let us look more closely at certain phrases that may have inadvertently fed into the 86 per cent statistic. There are three obvious value judgements included here that may have influenced practitioner findings.

  • GOOD control and co ordination. Does anyone know what this looks like or means? What are practitioners basing their judgements on? How ‘good’ is ‘good’?
  • Move CONFIDENTLY in a range of ways. How would ‘confidently’ be defined? What does a ‘range of ways’ actually mean? Would this include swimming/scootering – basic walking/running/jumping? Again – what are practitioners basing their judgements on?
  • They handle equipment and tools EFFECTIVELY – What does this mean? Another value judgement that is open to a very wide range of interpretation – and what exactly would constitute ‘tools’ – scissors/hammers/bicycles/spades…..?

Early Learning Goal 05 HEALTH AND SELF-CARE states that :

‘Children know the importance for good health of physical exercise and a healthy diet and talk about ways to keep healthy and safe. They manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully including dressing and going to the toilet independently.’

  • How do you assess if children ‘know the importance’ of something? How frequently do they have to talk about it before you can judge their level of knowledge?
  • No action is implied here – just talking seems to be enough? No mention of ‘demonstrating’ that they have any knowledge – wonder why?
  • Another value judgement here – ‘SUCCESSFULLY’ – manage their personal needs – how would this be defined in practice? Again – open to interpretation by practitioners

The defining issue is that without a more effective/rigorous means of assessing this area of the curriculum – the statistics will continue to present a false picture of the state of our young children’s health. If 86% are doing as ‘expected’ without much effort expended – then where is the incentive to address the alarmingly low levels of physical activity? This is where the potential for harm emerges – when a perfect excuse for inaction is presented to professionals on a very large plate.

What should be done?

  • Practitioners/Professionals must be aware of the Early Years Activity Guidelines – they are a good basis from which to start implementing PD initiatives
  • Be aware of the value judgements inherent in the ELG’s – discuss with fellow professionals exactly what ‘expected’ means
  • Inspectors must understand thoroughly what it is they are inspecting in this field – what are they looking for – and why?
  • Encourage engagement with the Healthy Early Years initiative – another effective means of promoting physical activity

What happened to the 14 per cent who didn’t reach an ‘expected’ level in PD? Does anyone know – or care?

Dr Lala Manners, director of Active Matters,

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