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Early Years Diary: How to Complete Effective Early Years Assessments

Female infant school teacher working one on one with a young white schoolboy, sitting at a table in a classroom writing, close up
Female infant school teacher working one on one with a young white schoolboy, sitting at a table in a classroom writing, close up

Anna McCallum, in her latest Early Years Diary, explores how she observes and completes assessment in her setting.

As Early Years Professionals one of our most important (yet somewhat tedious) jobs is to monitor the children’s development using a variety of assessments and evaluation methods, these will differ from setting to setting but they are all used for the same purpose.

Using the EYFS we need to see if the children are developing as they should be, and so highlighting any areas which they may be falling behind and focusing on those areas for their next targets. The same process is repeated monthly or perhaps termly depending on each nursery’s policies, to ensure the children’s progress is monitored regularly to make sure the children are ready for big school when the time comes.

As deputy manager one of my tasks is to review the assessments completed by my colleagues and input them onto our computer system, and yes, it is as much fun as it sounds. Recently, I was performing this thrilling errand when I worryingly needed to change quite a few areas after noticing that children were being marked higher or lower than what I know them to be capable of.

That is when it occurred to me that as much as we all work off the same piece of legislation (the EYFS), these assessments are somewhat opinion based, dependent on what the practitioners’ experiences are with each child. For example, I might be able to extract more language from a child in the hallway as I send them home, compared to them being in the room where they may be extremely quiet and shy, so I would mark their language skills higher than their key-worker might.

Children are complex little creatures and, much like adults, their personalities can change from place to place and person to person, resulting in different interactions and different experiences between adults.

I am sure we have all heard stories about how different some children are when they are at home compared to being at nursery.

I believe this is just human nature, we are emotionally versatile and can change our behaviours to better suit our environment, such as having different demeanours between home and work. So how then can we ensure our assessments are unbiased, resulting in a more accurate overview of each child’s development?

Effective communication is absolutely key in all aspects of childcare, but I think that it is especially so here. If someone has a meaningful interaction with another practitioner’s key child, then they need to tell them. If they are not in the same proximity as their key-worker then remind staff, they can write down a brief note which can be passed on later without running the risk that it will be forgotten. This then ensures that key workers have a comprehensive understanding of their key child’s capabilities.

Staff also need to be setting appropriate lessons and targets for their children. If the children are not being challenged in significant ways, then we cannot paint a clear picture of what they are really capable of and they will seemingly appear to be under achieving. By reviewing staff planning and holding regular meetings to share ideas and discuss new ways of teaching we can deliver the highest methods of learning and ensure meaningful interactions.

As I previously mentioned, for many, this side of nursery work can be somewhat monotonous and time consuming. Many practitioners find themselves rushing through it, usually in their own time, and will ultimately make mistakes. By allowing staff enough time to finish their paperwork during working hours, we can reduce the risk of human error and also monitor how they are being completed, making sure the EYFS is actually being used as a reference. I appreciate covering staff is not always a viable task depending on staffing levels, but it should be done wherever possible, or staff should at least get paid overtime if completing paperwork outside of working hours.

Some practitioners I have previously worked with have actually had insufficient training on how to even complete their assessments and have not even realised. They can be complex, arduous forms to go through and it can take time to wrap our heads around them, knowing how to determine whether a child is emerging, secure or exceeding in an area of learning can be tricky to distinguish, so correct training must be given. Not only given in the first instance of employment but also frequently checked upon and refreshed as some may acquire bad habits and this can easily fall under the radar, so regular spot checks and refresher sessions are never a bad idea.

Assessments and evaluations have an especially important role to play in educating young children, and despite being a mundane chore we must make sure they are not overlooked.

We...

...Must communicate effectively to ensure meaningful moments are not missed

...Need to make sure we are teaching meaningful lessons which are suitably challenging

...And should give staff ample time to complete their work within the working day and we are required to give all staff correct and thorough training.

By bearing these points in mind we can feel confident knowing our assessments are accurately measuring significant developmental moments for our children.

How do you ensure assessments are successfully completed? Join the conversation using the hashtag #mynurserylife.