Articles Viewpoint

Good, Quality Documentation

Simona McKenzie has posed another interesting question for me: “What should good documentation contain as a summary of children’s learning, that is focussed and shows exactly what the learning journey a child has taken?”

My first thought was that there are certain statutory, legal requirements that all childcare professionals need to fulfil. Namely:

The Department for Education’s Statutory Framework (DfE, 2014: 13) calls for on-going (or formative) assessments based on day-to-day observations of the children, without ‘excessive paperwork’ that is ‘limited to that which is absolutely necessary’. This is incredibly vague and open to interpretation, both by practitioners and Ofsted.

However, this is also its strength, because it means that each, unique provider can produce their own documentation that needs their own, unique needs. There is no requirement to present documentation as graphs, learning journeys or photographs. As a childcare professional you can choose how often you update your chosen documentation, and the method by which you do this.

Having so many choices can also make it confusing, but a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “why?” – Why are you recording this observation, this assessment? Why now and why this child? If there is a good answer (and “because I have to do 10 observations a day” is NOT a good answer…) then include it, otherwise, think twice.

Good reasons may be:

  • It’s the first time this child has done this activity/walked/climbed/sung at circle time
  • It’s a demonstration of embedded knowledge because we learned about ice last week and he/she is talking about it this morning
  • It’s evidence of self-esteem because he/she showed pride in their creation
  • It made me say ‘Wow’ because it’s something new
  • It has shown me how he/she thinks about the world

A relatively new statutory requirement is the 2-year-old progress check, when parents and carers have to be provided with a ‘short written summary of their child’s development in the prime areas’ (DfE, 2014:13). There are a few other ‘musts’, which have to be included in the progress check as well:

  • Areas in which a child is progressing well
  • Areas which may require additional support
  • Areas where there is concern over a developmental delay
  • Activities or strategies to tackle any concerns
  • Discuss with parents and carers how the summary can be used to support learning at home
  • Agree with parents and carers when it is the most useful point to provide a summary

This does give some guidance as to what is expected and how the progress check is expected to be used in your setting.

Interestingly, only the three prime areas (communication and language; physical development; personal, social and emotional development) are required. Currently, there are no explicit requirements to provide the information in a specific format and there is no guidance as to how short a ‘short written summary’ is.

Personally, I would keep the progress summary positive and presented in a way that doesn’t highlight the negatives. For example, if you present anyone with a chart (caterpillar, set of hexagons, flower petals) where only 4 out of the 5 areas (segments, hexagons, petals) are marked ‘achieved’, then the obvious question is “have I fallen short because I’ve not achieved the fifth area?” Consider only including those statements or areas where progress has been made and simply omit the others.

Obviously, if there is cause for concern or developmental delay, then this should be discussed, but if development is within normal parameters, then there is little point highlighting the ‘not achieved’ areas.

When producing anything to share with other people (whether that is parents, carers, Ofsted, outside agencies or other practitioners) it is sensible to review the language that you are using. For example, the EYFS jargon, such as PSED or scaffolding (and EYFS), will be meaningless to most parents. The progress check should be easily understood by parents and be helpful for them.

For this reason it may be preferable to write the progress check using the language of the characteristics of effective learning (Early Education, 2012). So you could say that children are noticing patterns and are beginning to develop ideas about sequencing, rather than ‘achieving emergent numeracy’.

Although not in the statutory framework, the guidance for inspections from Ofsted (Ofsted, 2014: 11) asks for inspectors to judge ‘how often practitioners share a good quality summary of their observations of children with the children’s parents, and their plans for reviewing children’s progress at age two’.

The exact parameters are not given for what ‘good quality’ looks like in this situation, so childcare professionals are, again, left to choose what to include and how this should be presented. This requirement will probably be fulfilled using the ‘paperwork’ as described in the statutory framework, but judging ‘good quality’ can be very subjective. Does this mean printed from the computer with full colour pictures or shrewdly observed vignettes on scraps of yellow sticky notes? Does quality imply a certain amount of quantity?

For me, quality is 90% about content. When visiting nurseries and doing training, I look to see the type of observations being made. Do they describe the children that are there? How much relevant detail is included? Is the assessment of learning and development logical and reasonable, given the observations? Will the intended audience be able to understand and read this easily? Is there a logical and clear structure to the paperwork? Have the children been involved in it? Do the children understand and value their own books? The pedant in me also likes to see good spelling and acceptable grammar.

Most of all, when I have finished looking at the learning journey, All About Me book or Profile, do I feel as if I ‘know’ the child? Do I feel as though I have been there as each step of progression has been made?

As Simona started this train of thought I’d like to end with some of her words too. During our correspondence about this topic, she mentioned that learning journals are best when short, but focused and professional. Something I’d wholeheartedly endorse.

She also suggests producing ‘something really valuable…a treasure for children and parents alike’. I think if your documentation can achieve that, then you won’t go far wrong!


* Note: The summative assessment for children in the Early Years in England is the EYFS Profile, which is usually recorded and reported at the end of children’s Reception Year. I haven’t touched on the EYFS Profile at this point, as there has just been more new legislation about the moderation of the profile, as well as the latest set of results, all of which will need a bit of untangling! *


DfE (2014) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage: Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five available for download at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-foundation-stage-framework–2 Reference: DFE-00337-2014

Early Education (2012) Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) London: Early Education

Ofsted (2014) Conducting early years inspections: Guidance for inspecting registered early years provision required to deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage Available from:


Get FREE Access to Early Years TV

Sign up for Early Years TV Email Updates and we'll email you with details of each new episode, along with our regular email tips and strategies.

Early Years TV signup
You may also like
Summer is Here and the Outdoors Awaits
Role of the Key Person
  • WASEEM Sep 30,2018 at 5:38 am

    WOW WONDERFUL MASTER PIECE !!! I absolutely agree with this article. PLEASE KEEP SHARING

  • Sid Mar 28,2015 at 12:21 pm

    It is interesting how when I did teaching practice training in the classroom, free from the “burden of paper work”, I had more time with the children, came to know them at a deeper level, and seemed to make quality progress following the needs of each child. I feel the mental and emotional well-being of the practitioner is also key to good observations, documentations and assessments. If I’m worried about catching up with paper work, then it is likely, my mental state to observe the child in quality ways would be affected.

    I love this article, thanks for sharing.

    • Kathy Mar 30,2015 at 3:18 pm

      Hi Sid,
      You’ve made some very good points there. It does a bit strange to think we can get to know the children better by filling in forms – rather than spending time with the children!
      I absolutely agree with your comment about the good emotional well-being of practitioners. It is so often overlooked, and yet it can sometimes be very emotionally draining to work with young children full time. Personally, I think the psed of practitioners is just as important as the psed for children!
      Thank you for commenting, and I’m really pleased you like the article.
      Best regards

  • Benita Oct 27,2014 at 9:34 am

    Kathy, I think you summed it up perfectly in your comment above “once practitioners have clearly identified the purpose of their observations, they become …more of an integral part of being a reflective practitioner”. I think more emphasis should be put on being a reflective practitioner. I feel there is a real need for training in the latter; not just how to do observations but knowing the purpose of them and the many different ways they can be used is part of being reflective and the reflective aspect of our roles seems to be underestimated. Local authorities should look into this as a training need and offer workshops on reflective practice. I for one keep a daily reflective journal and have found it integral to my practice.

  • Catherine Lyon Oct 26,2014 at 4:18 am

    Just some comments ….

    Quality over quantity v relevance and worth.

    Sometimes, I visit settings, observe and wonder – what’s the point? Documentation for the sake of it doesn’t bring any benefit for the child. Neither does the ‘time out’ from being with the children in ‘cutting up photographs’ and finding an Early Years Outcome/Development Matters Statement (or part of one) to fit. Beautiful records do not necessarily mean the information is used for reflection or to help the child move forward. Also, it doesn’t showcase the ‘value’ of the practitioner, who, in my view should be working with the child.

    Working with parents is becoming more and more important within the Early Years Agenda, especially in low income/deprived families. Embracing their observations and enabling them to fully take part with their child’s learning and development is going to be a challenge.

    Settings will also need to be articulate in justifying their reasons for interventions and measure the difference the EYPP (Early Years Pupil Premium) expenditure has made (as the setting has chosen). Therefore, in my opinion, the collection of accurate and consistent data is going to be particularly important from April 2015. Ofsted also will want someone to articulate the whys, wherefores and outcomes. This will need evidence to support the conversation – of children’s progress over a period of time.

    • Kathy Oct 26,2014 at 11:53 am

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here Catherine, much appreciated.

      You’ve made some excellent points. One that I feel many practitioners are still getting to grips with is the implications of the EYPP.

      Use of the information gathered is the critical aspect – whether that is Next Steps, sharing a 2 year old progress check, evidence for Ofsted, sharing with parents or for transitions.

      I think once practitioners have clearly identified the purpose of their observations, they become less of a chore and more of an integral part of being a reflective practitioner.

  • Chipo Chiware Oct 23,2014 at 11:14 pm

    A very refreshing read. It highlighted the importance of quality over quantity. As practitioners sometimes we got caught up in feeling that we have to write an observation, yet we don’t ask ourselves why we are recording this piece of information.

    • Kathy Oct 23,2014 at 11:22 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Chippo.
      It’s very easy to do! I’m a big believer in reflective practice for just the reasons you’ve described.
      Best regards

  • Sara Oct 23,2014 at 9:58 pm

    Some intersting points raised in this article. We’ve recently embarked on the world of online learning journeys, it has been fantastic and a huge learning curve. Absolutely love the reasons you state for doing an observation and are a good starting point. We’ve just recently started to moderate each other’s observations as practitioners to ensure we are doing quality, not quantity. Another great article Kathy.

    • Kathy Oct 23,2014 at 11:14 pm

      Many thanks for your kind words Sara.
      Peer observations are a great idea. I’ve always learned loads from watching other’s good practice.
      Best of luck with your online learning journeys as well,
      Kind regards

  • Lauren Oct 23,2014 at 9:49 pm

    I absolutely agree with this article. However I do feel that sometime quantity of observations is chosen over the quality of what is being written, especially in the nursery that I work in. And the learning journals are not at all child or parent friendly which is a shame because often parents do not understand what has been written and it can be difficult to explain. I do think that it should be across the board what to write and document like in schools.

    • Kathy Oct 23,2014 at 11:07 pm

      Many thanks for your comments Lauren.
      I totally agree that it’s a shame parents aren’t always aware of the amount of work and effort that go into the learning journals.
      It’s really important to share them with parents and take the time to explain.
      Interesting point about having standardised documents. There’s always for and against…
      Best Regards,

Leave Your Comment

Your Comment*

Your Name*
Your Webpage