Early Years Update looks at the principles, process and purpose of assessment in the early years

The Foundation Stage Profile was introduced during the academic year 2003/04; since then its implementation has been supported by additional guidance and support materials. The latest of these, Creating the Picture, adds value to these publications by defining the principles, process and purpose of assessment in the early years. It demonstrates clear links to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Guidance (2007) and to The Key Elements of Effective Practice (KEEP) (2005).

Creating the Picture is an excellent document for all early years settings to use as they begin to plan for the introduction of the EYFS in September 2008. It will underpin the work of practitioners in the maintained, independent, private and voluntary sectors who adopt its principled approach to assessment, record keeping and demonstrating progress.

Creating the Picture emphasizes the importance of observational assessment as a key component of effective practice and as the means by which the next steps in children’s learning are identified. It also addresses issues of evidencing judgements, developing approaches to manageable record keeping, using data appropriately and demonstrating progress – all issues which have emerged as key challenges for practitioners, headteachers, managers and local authorities.

Part one of Creating the Picture is divided into five sections:

  • Section 1: An overview of observational assessment in the context of the EYFS.
  • Section 2: A description of the principles for observational assessment and record keeping.
  • Section 3: A description of the eight principles of early childhood observational assessment.
  • Section 4: A description of the six principles for record keeping.
  • Section 5: A description of the four principles for demonstrating progress.

Section 1 provides simple guidance of what do to ensure that your practice in an early years setting is underpinned by the principles of assessment and the four key themes of the EYFS:

  • A Unique Child
  • Positive Relationships
  • Enabling Environments
  • Learning and Development.

Section 2 explains how the eight principles for observational assessment, the six principles for record keeping and the four principles for demonstrating progress link together.

The next three sections restate the appropriate principles, describe what they mean in practice, provide case studies to illustrate the principles and give references to other support materials.

Section 3 gives excellent advice on the following eight principles for early childhood observational assessment, and how to put them into practice:

  1. Assessment must have a purpose.
  2. Ongoing observation of children participating in everyday activities is the most reliable way of building up an accurate picture of what children know, understand, feel, are interested in and can do.
  3. Practitioners should both plan observations and be ready to capture the spontaneous but important moments.
  4. Judgements of children’s development and learning must be based on skills, knowledge, understanding and behavior that are demonstrated consistently and independently.
  5. Effective assessment takes equal account of all aspects of the child’s development and learning.
  6. Accurate assessments are reliant upon taking account of contributions from a range of perspectives.
  7. Assessments must actively engage parents in developing an accurate picture of the child’s development.
  8. Children must be fully involved in their own assessment.

Section 4 explains the importance of record keeping as a tool to help practitioners, children and their parents reflect on children’s attainment and progress.

The six principles below are key to ensuring that record-keeping systems are manageable and include all important information:

  1. Record keeping must be meaningful and have a purpose.
  2. The task of keeping records must be manageable and sustainable.
  3. Records must capture the range of children’s attainment, achievement and progress.
  4. Records will reflect the individuality of every child and the diversity of their backgrounds.
  5. All significant participants, including parents and children, should contribute to the information gathering.
  6. Records should be shared with the child.

Section 5 includes the four principles for demonstrating progress during the EYFS. This involves analyzing a broad range of information to illustrate children’s progress over time and across all areas of Learning and Development.

The four principles for demonstrating progress are:

  1. Effective practitioners will be able to identify how individuals and groups of children in their setting have developed and progressed in their learning.
  2. Effective approaches to assessment will generate information or data that can be used for a range of purposes. (Children in the EYFS should not be tested to obtain data.)
  3. Children’s progress must be identified and analyzed through a range of appropriate evidence; the majority of this will be drawn from observation of child-initiated activity.
  4. The complexity of young children’s development requires practitioners and managers to be able to understand a range of information in order to draw conclusions about children’s progress and the effectiveness of their provision.

Part two of Creating the Picture is much shorter and focuses on how observation and assessment can support inclusive practice in all early years settings.

The report includes a wealth of useful references and additional materials which will be of use to practitioners, managers, headteachers and local authority staff as they strive to ensure high-quality provision that is appropriate for all children in all settings at all times.