Pauline Cox explains what was involved in taking part in the Effective Early Learning (EEL) Project

As nursery/reception teacher, I wanted to find out more about ways to further improve our provision and to maintain a high level of motivation among the staff to provide the best quality care and learning opportunities at our setting. Following an initial open meeting to introduce the EEL Project I attended a three-day training program, sponsored by our LEA.

Day one

An overview of the Project: Members of the EEL team outlined the aims, addressed the 10 Dimensions of Quality, and discussed the Quality, Evaluation and Improvement Cycle.

We attended three workshops, where we:

  •  looked at data gathering and analysis
  • worked through a range of materials to gain a clear understanding of techniques and proformas to be used in gathering basic data
  • practiced procedures for conducting interviews with children, parents and other professionals
  • looked at strategies and procedures for tracking children to gain a clear understanding of their experiences throughout the day.

Day two

Quality Assessment involving observation of children and adults. Workshops, where we were introduced to:

  • The Leuven Involvement Scale
  • The Adult Engagement Observation Scale

We used video evidence and other materials to develop our skills of observing children by applying the Involvement Scale, and learned how to structure our observations of adults at work with young children, and how to analyze the results.

  • develop skills of retrieval and analysis of qualitative data and how this data can be organized into a report format
  • identify key features of action planning in relation to the Project, including strategies for implementing the Action Plan, supporting staff engaged in its implementation, and monitoring progress through continuous review.

Finally, managers and heads, with our support worker, joined us to plan the implementation of the EEL process in our own setting. Local support networks were set up for ‘cluster groups’ of participating practitioners.

Back at school

We informed parents of our decision to take part in the Project, stating its aims and explaining that during the study, observations of a sample of children and adults would be made, photographs would be taken and that confidentiality would be respected throughout. Written consent was obtained from parents.

Stage 1: Evaluation

Staff in the early years team worked with parents and children to document and evaluate the quality of early learning within our setting, using the 10 dimensions:

  • aims and objectives
  • learning experiences and curriculum
  • learning and teaching strategies
  • planning, assessment and record keeping
  • staffing
  • physical environment
  • relationships and interaction
  • equal opportunities
  • parental partnership, home and community liaison
  • management, monitoring and evaluation.

Two methods were used:

A. Quality Documentation

To build a detailed database relating to each of the 10 quality dimensions, we used:

  • Context Proforma – to collect general information about the setting
  • Documentary Analysis – the policy statements of the setting are analyzed to determine the stated philosophy, aims and objectives
  • Photographs – photographs are collected and used in the interviews and written reports
  • Physical Environment – information and plans of the setting are collected
  • Professional biographies – these record the training, qualifications and experience of those who work in the setting
  • Focused interviews – of early years staff, managers/heads, governors, parents and children
  • Systematic and focused observations – using target child techniques, the data produced is used to evaluate the quality of early learning in the setting.

B. Quality Assessment

Through the Evaluation and Development cycle, we collected evidence to provide us with a means of assessing any changes which would need to be made to the quality of learning in the setting. The Project emphasizes the processes of learning, and focuses the assessment on two key factors in the quality and effectiveness of early learning.

1 The way the child engages in the process of learning.
2 The way in which the adults who work with the child support and facilitate that learning.

This quantitative research provided us with evidence of the effect of action on the learning in our setting, after the data obtained in the Evaluation Stage was compared with the data obtained following the Development Stage.

All the information gathered was collated into an Evaluation Report of the early learning within our setting.

With our external adviser, we identified our priorities for action.

The Action Plan was implemented, and throughout this stage progress was monitored by gathering evidence to reflect upon the effect of the Action Plan. This was done by repeating the Child Involvement and Adult Engagement Scales.

Reflecting upon the whole Evaluation and Development process enabled us to review the impact of our Action Plan upon the quality of the children’s learning. Our reflections were recorded in a final report, including the results of the final data and submitted for accreditation.

As an ongoing process, this leads us into a further cycle of Quality Evaluation and Development.

Outcomes of our involvement in the EEL Project

As a team, we became more aware of the value of time-sampling observations of individual children over a session.

The benefit of adult engagement observations came as a pleasant surprise. Before beginning these, some staff felt that being observed by their colleagues could be perceived as ‘threatening’. In the event the observations were reassuring; identifying good quality teaching as well as areas for improvement in a positive way. The ability to make effective self-evaluations was probably the single most valuable outcome. All staff agreed that the Project was very helpful in developing good self-evaluation skills which they were able to use help to maintain high standards of quality, or develop practice to raise standards.

Since our participation in the EEL Project, staff are more inclined to suggest and discuss ideas, formally and informally. This has had a positive impact on our provision and on the children’s learning.

We all agreed that whether or not we were providing high-quality provision we still needed to continue to develop, and that working in an open and self-critical context provides the right conditions for long-term development.