What are the early years processes involved for quality provision and planning positive outcomes for children in the Early Years Foundation Stage? Early years consultant Jane Cole has a look

During the past year, I have had the privilege of training many practitioners from a wide range of settings on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). It has been an excellent opportunity to reach new audiences and to continue affirming key messages about effective working with young children. The practitioners have bought a range of experience and expertise to the training and, as I have found during my long career in early years, all are keen to do the very best for the children and families they work with. They also wish to demonstrate to parents, and to other external advisers and inspectors, that they have the capacity and desire to continually improve the quality of their provision. This is exactly what is needed to implement the EYFS well.

Despite this positive approach, most practitioners seem to share one area of concern, of anxiety and of uncertainty. It is a word beginning with the letter ‘p’, which frequently has other ‘p’ words linked to it. That word and worry is ‘planning’.

Childminders in particular, who do responsive and flexible work that is at the heart of the principles and commitments of EYFS, worry a lot about planning. However, this concern is nothing new, and is evident across the whole early years sector.

From my previous experience as an adviser, I learned that when a setting requested input on ‘planning’, they usually hoped for a proforma that they could fill in, pin on the wall – and then get on with their core work with the children. They often did not see the links or purpose between planning and everyday practice.

Planning as a process
A solution to the ‘planning panic’ is to focus on planning not as a piece of paper, but as a process. It is a process that needs to involve and be owned by all participants in the life of the setting. This will include listening to the voices of the children and their families as well as practitioners. Most important of all, planning is not rigid, but regularly reviewed to take into account new ideas and opportunities, which crop up on a daily basis within every early years setting.

To simplify the overall planning process and make it more manageable, it is helpful to break it down into five stages. These are:

  1. Vision
  2. Continuous provision
  3. Getting to know the children
  4. Enhanced provision
  5. Daily and weekly systems.

Stage 1: Vision
This stage focuses on the setting’s mission or vision statement and its policies, which will show how the vision is made a daily reality for the children. National policies and guidance such as the rich guidance resources within the EYFS can be used to inform this process. There is also much sector specific-guidance from the national organisations, such as the National Childminding Association (NCMA), the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) and the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA), that is both accessible and supportive.

Stage 2: Continuous provision
The term ‘continuous provision’ describes all the physical areas of the setting, both in and outdoors, and includes its routines and deployment of staff. In any setting, these together create the secure environment needed to foster the children’s confidence and development. Continuous provision should include learning opportunities across all six areas of learning in the EYFS.

Stages 1 and 2 of the planning process should be put in place before any child or group of children join the setting. They form the foundation on which practitioners can build their practice and are a necessary investment of time and funding to ensure high-quality provision.

Stage 3: Getting to know the children
In the process of organising their continuous provision, the practitioners in a setting will have established a system to capture observations of significant moments of children’s learning and development. To support this process there is a range of accessible support and guidance in the EYFS Framework pack, both on the Principles into Practice Card 3.1 and in the resources and documents in the linked section of the CD-Rom.

The cycle of observation, assessment and planning is at the very heart of much of the EYFS training I have been leading. In the EYFS guidance, practitioners are prompted to ‘look’, ‘listen’ and ‘note’ what children do. In my experience, when starting with ‘describing’ in the observation process, practitioners quickly respond to the active aspects of ‘look’ and ‘listen’. But, when we consider the third element, ‘note’, things tend to come to an abrupt halt. Anxiety raises its head again:

‘Do we have to write it down?’ ‘How much?’ ‘How often?’

‘What do we write?’

To counteract this, I now use the word ‘noticing’ instead. This connects with practitioners who are confident that they’re ‘tuning in’ to their key children by ‘noticing’ what they are doing or saying, or how they are playing.

Practitioners can see the sense that when they ‘notice’ something significant (which they recognise because of their knowledge of the unique child) they will want to capture the moment to share with the child and his/her family. This can be a memorable part of celebrating and considering a child’s progress. The verb ‘considering’ is used here to recognise those situations where a child may be ‘puzzling’ their key person. Capturing these important  moments and sharing them as appropriate with the child, their family and colleagues, can also help to identify any barriers that need to be overcome.

At a recent conference on assessment at the Pen Green Research Centre in Corby, it was interesting to hear from a speaker from New Zealand that ‘noticing’ was one of the key approaches associated with Te Whariki. Te Whariki (from a Maori word meaning ‘woven mat’, signifying the weaving together of two different cultures) is an inspirational early-childhood curriculum published in 1996 by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand. It was their first national curriculum statement for the early childhood sector and provided a basis for the delivery of consistent and high-quality early childhood services.

Stage 4: Enhanced provision
All the information gained at Stage 3 leads to an assessment of, or ‘deciding’, what the observations show about the needs, interests and enthusiasms of any particular child. These then support the planning for enhanced provision. In many cases, this planned adjustment and enrichment of some aspect of the setting’s provision will also be relevant to other children in a group.

To give just one example: the key person working with a four-year-old child may have observed on several occasions that the child is rather unsteady when moving around the outside area. The practitioner then decides to build an obstacle course to give the child lots of opportunities to use a wide range of physical movements. Many of the other children in the group will enjoy helping to build and develop the obstacle course and will join the focus child in actively using and enjoying the challenges it offers.

Stage 5: Daily and weekly systems
These are the procedures, processes and systems that support all the planning processes. Much of the thinking about these systems should be about making them focused and manageable. There is no blueprint for success, but clarity of communication is the key to whatever structure is chosen by the staff team and their leader.

Planning for Quality leaflets
Clearly setting out the planning process can be invaluable for early years practitioners. Indeed, our recognition of this was one of the factors that prompted Anne Nelson, chief executive of Early Education, and me to write a set of leaflets entitled Planning for Quality.

These build on the first set, Implementing the Early Years Foundation Stage. Planning for Quality consists of five A4 size six-page leaflets, each of which looks in depth at a different aspect of the planning process:

  • Planning processes – this leaflet describes the various stages in the planning process, along with advice on how to manage each stage.
  • Opportunities for learning – this includes details of learning opportunities across all six areas of learning in the EYFS, to support practitioners in reviewing the effectiveness of their continuous provision for the children in their care.
  • Observing children – the third leaflet considers the purposes of observation, why it is important and what should be observed. It looks at the skills and organisation of observations and includes several examples of learning stories.
  • Assessment for learning – looks at assessment not as a separate judgement, but as integral to action planning in response to observations. This leaflet is accompanied by a CD-Rom, which provides a management tool that can be used to demonstrate progress across the nursery and reception years. It is applicable both to individual children and cohorts of children. This data can be used to support management decisions about maintaining and improving quality in terms of resourcing, staff training and support.
  • Role of the adult – the final leaflet looks at the importance of effective communication and partnership between all the adults living and working with a child.

The leaflets have been written to provide guidance for all early years practitioners by identifying practical approaches to improve effective practice, and include reflective questions to support self-evaluation and quality improvement. In compiling these leaflets, we have drawn not only on the framework and guidance underpinning the EYFS, but also on the developing frameworks across the other countries of the United Kingdom. Although each of these documents demonstrates differences in how messages are framed, there are strong synergies around focus and practice, which is very heartening. Improving quality in early years provision is a journey, but we all seem to be on the same map.