I could not believe that Nancy Stewart (To the point, 12-25 November 2012) was implying that practitioners should question whether they need an 'individual file filled with photos and observations' for each child, and that they 'need to trust the evidence they hold in their minds' in order to reduce paperwork. I have worked on the topic of observation and assessment with thousands of practitioners over many years and am confident that the vast majority are fully aware that they cannot possibly hold in their minds all they know about each child. They enjoy putting together unique learning journals, and sharing these with each child and family. What they have found onerous is trying to match each observation to points on the non-statutory grids in Development Matters, and reducing each child to a 'best fit' rather than writing a progress review that celebrates their unique characteristics.

The revised EYFS did, indeed, offer a chance to reduce paperwork. If Nancy Stewart, and her colleagues, had recognised that the non-statutory Development Matters Guidance was the main cause of the excessive paperwork and checklist problems, practitioners would now be able to get on with knowing the children in their care as the unique individuals they are, and Ofsted inspectors would have to acknowledge a variety of approaches to observation and assessment.

Margaret Edgington, Independent early years consultant

Nancy Stewart responds:

Excessive paperwork emerged as a central concern of practitioners in the Tickell review, which pointed to the expectations of Ofsted, local authorities and the EYFS Profile as the main sources of the burden. The only way to reduce paperwork is to stop doing some of it. My comments urged practitioners to think for themselves about what aspects of their recording serve a valuable purpose in helping them support children's learning, and to let go of what is not useful.

I agree that it is not possible to hold everything in mind. I also agree that sharing carefully selected, significant developments with a child and family can be an important reason to keep records, as I indicated in my original comment.

Where I cannot agree is in placing Development Matters as the root of the problem. It is non-statutory guidance which everyone is free to use or not. It is explicit that it is not to be used as a checklist and the overlapping age/stage bands deliberately discourage the 'milestones' mentality. The material provides a valued support for practitioners particularly when they summarise the evidence, written or otherwise, they have gathered over time. Development Matters provides sample descriptions of a typical pattern of development, while stating clearly on each page these are not a prescription for each unique child. A best-fit judgment allows practitioners to consider the overall progress of each child while realising that every child's pathway will be different.


Having read the Elizabeth Truss interview (Analysis, 12 November), I'm sorry, but anyone who believes 'There are some very strong aspects to our system - for example the Ofsted inspection regime', has no idea what constitutes 'strength' or an 'early years system', and so should not be allowed anywhere near children's education.

David Lewis, Cawood, Selby, N Yorks


I was very surprised to notice an extremely racist phrase 'nitty gritty' in the article 'Figure it Out' (Nursery Chains, 17 October). I was shocked that a leading childcare magazine would allow such a comment in this day and age.

According to an online definition - 'nitty-gritty' is a reference to the English slave trade. It is usually used with the prefix 'getting down to' and there is a sense that it is at the bottom of something. The suggestion is that it originated as a term for the unimportant debris left at the bottom of ships after the slaves had been removed and that the meaning included the slaves themselves.

Name and address supplied

Nursery World responds:

We are always careful about the language we use and since receiving this letter we have researched the phrase but cannot find any clear evidence of its origins in the slave trade or that it is offensive.

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