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Articles

A Glimmer of Hope for EYPs

The EPPE report (Sylva et al. 2004) concluded that the best quality settings had a graduate led workforce.

The Graduate Leader Fund (or Transformation Fund) was set up in 2006 to support settings in achieving this aim. The idea was that settings could ‘home grow’ a graduate, by supporting their studies at University, whilst still working in the setting, or to assist a setting to recruit a graduate.

This would then enable graduates to go on achieve to the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) – the gold standard.

But has spending all this money (£555 million) achieved anything in the last 5 years?

In July 2011, the Department for Education (DfE) released the Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund, researched by an eminent team and supported by the CWDC, Oxford University and the National Centre for Social Research.

Because the EYPS is still in its infancy (although there are now 7,500 EYPs), the research has used EYPs who have achieved the Status for 6 to 24 months. The two main questions to be investigated were:

  • Does having an Early Years Professional improve quality?
  • If so, which aspects of practice (and of quality) are most closely associated with EYP status?

(Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund p. 16)

I’ve done a couple of small scale research projects to explore the same questions and have found it incredibly difficult to unravel the Status from the person (see ‘Value your EYP’ on this website).

Similarly it is impossible to ignore the environment in which the EYPs work, physical and emotional. If there is already an ethos of implementing improvements, an openness to changes and a strong team, then the EYP stands a much better chance of making a positive contribution.

In the Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund, Mathers et al. have chosen to use the ITERS-R, ECERS-E and ECERS-R Environmental assessment tools (available from Amazon) which neatly side steps some of the issues.

These are a method of quantifying the quality of the setting and one that I always recommend to settings who know that there is something not ‘quite right’ but can’t put their finger on it. These audit tools enable practitioners to put a fine tooth comb through their practice and environment to identify which parts are functioning well and which need closer monitoring.

There are a myriad of findings and analysis from all the information gathered over the two year life of the project, which have been categorised into – The impact of gaining EYPS; Other predictors of quality; Improving practice in settings; Factors affecting improvements and Parents’ views of improvements, qualifications and their involvement in their child’s learning.

I was particularly drawn to the impact of gaining the EYP Status, the key findings of which were that:

  • Gains were seen in overall quality
  • EYPS provided ‘added value’ over and above gaining a graduate in terms of overall quality
  • Improvements related most strongly to direct work with children, such as support for learning, communication and individual needs
  • EYPs were more influential on the quality of practice in their own rooms than on quality across the whole setting.
  • There was little evidence that EYPs improved the quality of provision for younger children (birth to 30 months)

(pages 6 and 7 – Executive Summary)

In addition, it was found that few EYPs were working in baby rooms, which mirrors my own experiences with EYPs. It seems to be felt that EYPs are best used in pre-school. Maybe because they will be expected to talk to teachers, write leaving reports or liaise with multi-professional teams?

I would suggest this is an area ripe for research and discussion with settings. If this can be analysed successfully then EYPs may be used more effectively and efficiently in settings.

EYP networks have plenty of support in the Report: “EYPs valued having access to continuing professional development opportunities through EYP networks established within LAs. These networks provided the opportunity … to share best practice. Networks also provided additional training, for example on specific elements of provision.” (page 99) and “Local networks were seen as a valuable resource for training and for keeping up to date with new developments” (page 100) and “EYPs identified both CPD and the role of EYP networks as key facilitators for ongoing development.” (page 106).

This is very encouraging. Currently networks are struggling for funding and EYPs are having to justify their time away from the settings. This research clearly shows how valuable the benefits are.

In conclusion, I would strongly recommend anyone in childcare to access the report on the DfE website because I have only picked out a very few of the findings and their possible implications here. The report is thorough, interesting and very relevant – just as you would expect from these authors.

Now let’s hope the Coalition Government take the time to read and understand it.

References

Sylva, K. Melhuish, E. Sammons, P. Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggard, B. (2004) The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Final Report A Longitudinal Study Funded by the DfES 1997-2004

Mathers, S. Ranns, H, Karemaker, A. Moody, A, Sylva, K, Graham, J, and Siraj-Blatchford I. (2011) Evaluation of the Graduate Leader Fund Final report. Research Report DFE-RR144

Note

Since then, there have been a number of updates to the Standards, requirements and Government policy.  The Early Years Professional Status has been replaced with a new Status – Early Years Teacher Status – which still has 8 Standards, but you now have to hold GCSE maths, English and science to do the course.

In addition, you have to pass the professional skills tests. You can find out more information from the Government website here

Image by Jenny

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Articles

Schema and Fairies

Schemas are one of those things that divide practitioners, like fairies at the bottom of the garden.

You either believe in them and are in absolute awe at how amazing they are, or you just don’t believe they exist. It’s really interesting when you discuss this with people and it’s extra exciting when a ‘non-believer’ suddenly says “That describes my key child exactly!!”

But first of all, let’s explore what a schema is.

Athey (2007) defines schema as ‘patterns of behaviour and thinking in children that exist underneath the surface feature of various contents, contexts and specific experience’ (page 5). Nutbrown (2006) extends this to patterns of ‘action and behaviour’ (page 10). Schema are the repeated actions of children exhibited during their play, drawings, 3D modelling, movement and speech.

For example, for a child with a transporting schema, carrying (transporting) objects is the most important or engaging part of their play.

Typically, a ‘transporter’ will pack everything into bags, prams or buckets and carry them around the setting. Sand play may consist of carrying the sand to the water tray. The bikes outdoors will be used to transport toys.

There are many different identified schema. Athey (2007) describes 10 graphic, 11 space and 9 dynamic schema (page 62) which vary from transporter to going through a boundary. She identified these through prolonged and in depth research of children over a period of 5 years, with a skilled team of researchers.

So far, so good.

But why hasn’t everybody else spotted these and made the connections? As Athey comments (page 7) this hasn’t arisen from ‘common sense’, it is the result of research and pedagogy.

These are the sort of things that you need to learn about and understand so you can see them hidden in the children’s play. Often during courses, as I am explaining the sorts of things a child with a strong schema may do, a practitioner or parent says, in surprise, “But that’s exactly what my child does! We’ve never really understood why” or “that has never made sense before, but now it seems so obvious!”

Once identified, the practitioner can use that knowledge to select activities and experiences which will engage the child. For example, if a practitioner wishes to engage a ‘transporter’ in some mathematical development, then counting toys into a pram, pushing them to the other side of the room and counting the toys out again is likely to be an engaging game.

A child with a rotational schema will be intrigued by bike wheels, windmills and spirographs. By really tuning into the types of things that highly motivate a child, the most suitable sort of experiences, which support the child’s development, can be provided.

A very practical book to use for activity ideas is Again! Again! by Sally Featherstone (2008), which gives lots of ideas for schematic play in each of the areas in a setting, such as water, sand, outdoors etc.

However, it should be noted that not every child has strong schemas, some children may only display schematic play for a short period of time before moving onto another schema or some children may never display schematic play. Which is where the non-believers come in.

If you have never had a key child with a strong schema then it is quite far fetched to believe that, for example, a very young child can make ‘rotational’ connections in his or her drawings, movement outside and preferred toys.

But once you have worked with such a child you start to see schema everywhere. In fact, you can start to see it in adults too!

Just like fairies at the bottom of the garden, once there is proof there in front of you, it is difficult to deny. Unlike the fairies, schemas definitely exist and are incredibly useful for supporting child development.

References
Athey, C (2007) Extending Thought in Young Children (2nd Ed) London: PCP
Featherstone, S. (2008) Again! Again! Understanding schema in young children Featherstone Education
Nutbrown, C. (2006) Threads of Thinking London: Sage

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Articles

What does Assessment mean?

An interesting article caught my eye this week, based around a mother’s conversion to the EYFS.

There a few things which also raised an eyebrow – “every setting in the country” should be “the majority of settings England”, for example.

But the sentence which really intrigued me was that children should be allowed to be children and not “endure a continuous stream of observations and assessments”. The word that was particularly discordant was “endure”.

In my experience most young children thoroughly enjoy having an interested and motivated adult watching and taking part in their play. There are many adults who enjoy being a part of children’s lives, which naturally involves noting the children’s likes and dislikes.

So where does the “endure” or suffering come from? One explanation could be that the process of observations and assessment hasn’t been made clear.

The dictionary tells us assessment is an evaluation or judgement. This doesn’t mean we restrict children’s freedom or play or natural inquisitiveness. A good practitioner will give the children all these opportunities and then take the lead from them to extend their interests – or evaluate, ‘assess’ their play.

The assessment is not about labelling or pigeonholing children. However, if a practitioner can spot schematic play (for example), then this can help support the child’s interests and learning in a way that is the best for the child. Or, put another way, really understands what makes that child tick.

Who wouldn’t want that?

When first looking at the EYFS (2008 and 2012) it may seem to be artificially contrived statements about children just doing what children do best – being themselves. But these have been crafted by skilled and respected educators in the childcare industry, based on some of the most in depth research in Europe (Effective Provision of Preschool Education, 2003).

The strength of the document is that it takes the child’s incredibly complex patterns of learning and makes them accessible, makes it look easy, even. This ensures that the ‘assessments’ we make about children are relevant and accurate.

The EYFS (2012) does have many ‘categories’, against which assessments are made, although few than the EYFS 2008. But the fact remains that, somehow, you have to detail how children develop and learn. If you don’t, how do you know if their development is within ‘normal’ limits? How do you evidence Special Educational Needs, for example? Or gifted and talented?

Without having this information you may not be providing the very best for the children in your care.

Assessment isn’t about sitting children down to be tested or labelled. It is about taking an interest in their development, and then using this to give them an enjoyable and challenging childhood.

References:
Early Years Foundation Stage, EYFS (2008) DCSF http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/earlyyears
EPPE (2003) http://eppe.ioe.ac.uk/

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Articles

Heuristic Play: a simple guide

What is Heuristic play?

When babies start to walk and become more independent they need an environment of discovery and investigation – Heuristic comes from ‘eureka’. This is the time when children will spend 30 minutes or more concentrating on seemingly random play. They like to post, hide, slide, pour, fill, put on, in and under.

Kathy Sylva and Jerome Bruner associated this concentration of play with cognitive development and educational progress. As practitioners we need to provide the environment and materials for children to be able to do this.

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Articles

Treasure Baskets

General Rule: No Plastic!

Treasure BasketChildren need to experience the sensation of touch. In this day and age most toys are plastic – smooth and uniform. How do you know what prickly means if you’ve never felt it? It is our responsibility as practitioners to give the children these experiences, in a safe, controlled environment. The treasure basket is full of sensations for the baby, from cold and heavy to wooden or shiny. Our role is to provide the experience and support the learning.

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