Policies in early years settings are there to guide the actions which practitioners need to take to fulfil the vision and aims of the setting and to act as a point of reference against which decisions can be made. Developing a wide range of policies in an early years setting will help to:
- satisfy legal requirements
- define the approach of the setting and make this understandable to everyone
- provide the structure for an induction programme for new staff members
- ensure that services are delivered in a consistent way
- make sure issues are dealt with fairly and equitably
- contribute to a well organised, professional image.
A policy consists of a description of principles, expectations and procedures. It should be written so that anyone reading it - staff or parents - will know what has been agreed on any specific issue. The policy should also make it clear what actions an individual is expected to take in different circumstances.
Policies required by law
There are a range of policies that early years settings are legally required to have. These include:
- safeguarding children
- health and safety
- equal opportunities and inclusion
- behaviour management
- data collection.
There are legal guidelines applicable to different types of settings which cover the minimum requirements which must be met by law. Every setting needs to have a series of policies and procedures which show how these legal requirements are going to be met on a day-to-day basis.
Model policy documents are available from a number of sources, and it is possible to adopt these as they stand to ensure that the setting complies with legislation. However, as Chris Dukes and Maggie Smith point out on page 9, the most effective policies are those which staff teams draw up for themselves. This gives everyone an opportunity to shape the policy and to take responsibility for seeing that the policy and its associated procedures are put into practice.
Writing a policy
In all instances the most effective policies will be those drawn up following consultation with a wide cross-section of the setting's community - staff, parents and children. Input from many different interested parties will encourage people to feel that they have ‘ownership' of the policy, and a responsibility to make sure it is implemented.
All new policies should reflect the values, vision and ethos of the setting. To help to achieve this, and to make sure the setting's policies complement one another, it is useful to take a three-stage approach when creating a policy.
Carry out research to establish the background information on the key areas that the policy will cover.
- Highlight the key features to be included in the policy and any evidence about how best to put them into practice.
- Identify any training needs and make plans to address them.
- Consult the main groups that the policy will affect.
- Analyse the results of the consultation.
Useful questions to ask at this stage of the process are:
- Are there any statutory requirements?
- What is currently happening in the setting?
- Has anyone been on relevant training?
- Where is it possible to find out about good practice?
- Who are the interested parties who should be consulted?
- What is the best way to consult with them?
- What is the timescale for the consultation process?
Using the information gathered from the background research and through the consultation process, a working group can now work together to draw up the policy.
- Use a standard format for the policy document wherever possible.
- State the legal framework that affects the policy.
- Write down who is responsible for seeing the policy is implemented.
- State when the policy will be reviewed.
- Define the setting's approach to the areas which the policy covers.
- Draw up sets of procedures to translate the policy into practice.
- Decide who will monitor the policy, and how.
- Make sure the policy is freely available and well publicised.
Questions to ask at this stage include:
- What information has the consultation provided?
- Will the standard format be suitable?
- What is the timescale for completing the policy writing?
- Have any training needs been identified?
- How easy is the document to understand?
- Who needs to know about the policy and how will it be publicised?
- Do we also need to prepare a more ‘parent-friendly' version?
When writing the policy keep it as short and as clear as possible. Set out the procedures to be followed in a simple step-by-step way - each policy may generate several sets of procedures. Where necessary support the policy with cross references to sources of additional information and to supporting documents and the other policies of the setting.
Policies should always be designed to support good practice and should be enabling and empowering for the staff who are expected to implement them. They should not be set in stone and should be reviewed periodically to see how well they fit the evolving needs of the setting. A good way to do this is to draw up a three-year rolling programme for reviewing and updating policies. Be prepared to be flexible, though: it may sometimes be necessary to change a review date because of a change in circumstances, such as the introduction of new legislation. The key questions to ask when reviewing a policy include:
- Has the policy been fully implemented and are the procedures followed?
- Has it been monitored well?
- Has it achieved its aims and does it contribute to quality provision in the setting?
- Is it compatible with all the other policies?
- Does it need to be modified in any way?