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Early Years Diary: Paperwork: the Endless Cycle

I went to a Renwick Gallery in DC during lunch time and was excited about the stacks of paper that was used to create a huge mountain. This shot was exceptionally intriguing to me since it allows you to describe the image however you like.
Photographer: Christa Dodoo | Source: Unsplash

One of the lesser known aspects of working in childcare is the paperwork. Many people do not realise just how much paperwork is involved and are often shocked to learn just how much there is. Whether there is an apprentice starting their career or a parent at the end of year receiving their child’s Learning Journey, the reaction is the same-they are surprised and maybe startled by the workload, but little do they know that is just the tip of the iceberg.

From creating the children’s Learning Journeys, to tracking their development; from the weekly planning, to termly assessments; from ensuring you have enough photographs, to completing Individual Education Plans, fellow practitioners will be aware the list goes on. And on and on and on and on.

Mrs Doyle in her previous role at the DfE

Due to this endless cycle of paperwork, I have found one of the biggest complaints from nursery practitioners is the paperwork, or more specifically the amount there is and struggling to find the time to complete it. What can be done to rectify this issue or ease the workload for those who already have a particularly challenging job?

As a deputy manager and a key worker I must juggle my office paperwork and the children’s paperwork, and I fully sympathise with anyone in a similar position.

However for now I would like to focus on the children’s paperwork and how practitioners can find ways to ensure their work is completed without feeling under pressure and having to complete their workload in their personal time.

Every setting has their own tailored approach to how paperwork is completed but, generally speaking, the same areas are covered.

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However, if the majority of a nursery team is struggling to keep up with their workload it may be advisable to revise your system as it may be unnecessarily complex. At my setting we recently revised our weekly planning format which has created less paperwork, more time to complete it but still attains just as much, if not more, information than the previous design. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and bring innovative ideas to the table.

Speaking of innovation, many settings have now made the move to digital records of learning, which I must admit I am a huge fan of. There are pros and cons to making the switch, personally I feel the pros outweigh the cons. There is the obvious advantage in reducing your environmental footprint by cutting down on paper usage. Parents do enjoy having regular updates and photos of their children’s learning, and this is much quicker to complete as opposed to hand writing observations. Digital records can be completed within working hours, with most platforms incredibly easy to use. You can link observations and targets automatically to the EYFS, and it is cheaper in the long run.

Some settings remain with the old-school paper approach, which is also fine, but I feel it just cannot compete with online systems. Using paper is a lot more time consuming, meaning more often than not staff end up taking it home to complete as they endlessly cut out and stick in photographs and observations. There is the added negative that parents have to wait much longer for a glimpse into their child’s learning.

I understand it can be lovely to receive a physical item full of wonderful photographs and funny quotes that you can keep and cherish over the years, but personally speaking I think I have looked at my stepson’s Learning Journey twice over the years since he brought it home!

Having used both paper and digital approaches I personally feel digital is the way to go. The other consideration to be made is the pure quantity of children that we must complete paperwork for. Digital records scale more easily, so if you find that year-on-year there is some fluctuation in the number of children within your setting, digital eases that too.

Pomeranian working on an iPad
Photographer: Cookie the Pom | Source: Unsplash

Practitioners are pushed to their limits and must take on a ridiculous amount of work. At my first nursery (keep in mind I was newly qualified) I had to plan and produce paperwork for over 30 children. I did what I had to do, but looking back it was an insane amount of work that I would simply refuse to do now. Keeping key children numbers within a reasonable range is crucial.

Short staffing always seems to be an issue within the Early Years sector, and I think in part the paperwork is somewhat to blame. Many people join the industry thinking it is a fun and care-free job, but the reality is quite the opposite. Yes it can be fun, but the workload is often intense and unexpected, so people leave. By making sure staff are able to complete their paperwork during work hours, finding the easiest formats and using the latest innovations at our disposal hopefully we can encourage more people to join the Early Years industry, rather than pushing them away from it.

How do you manage your workload? Join the conversation and share your experiences using the hashtag #mynurserylife

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