Author Archives: Kathy


Where’s Wally? And Why it’s Important

Yesterday I was at the most amazing training session. It was the last session on a course which I have thoroughly enjoyed leading and am proud to be a part of – the Early Years SENCO, run by Stockport Local Authority and certified by Manchester Metropolitan University.

All ten sessions have been really informative and very enjoyable. However, the reason for particularly singling out yesterday’s session is that I now know why my husband can’t find Wally!

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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.

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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Recommended Resources

The Trouble with Play. A Thought Provoking Book

The Trouble with Play by Susan Grieshaber and Felicity McArdle. Open University Press (2010)

This book will challenge any preconceptions about the innocence and universal benefit of play. It is based on naturalistic observations of children, where researchers do not interrupt or disturb the play, so the ‘real’ situation can be witnessed.The result is a number of fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, vignettes of play behaviour.

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Frank Fields’ Poverty Review

The consultation date has passed for getting your views to Frank Fields regarding poverty and life chances. The findings are not expected to be reported to the Prime Minister until ‘the end of the year’ [2010] (http://povertyreview.independent.gov.uk/)

Unfortunately this initiative has been somewhat overshadowed by the proposal to remove the child benefit payments from households where at least one partner pays higher rate tax (income exceeds £43,875 per annum). This ideological shift was done without any public consultation or debate.

So is the independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances just a sop? A chance to make the public think they will be listened to? Would Frank Fields’ findings conclude that all households need the child benefit?

My concern is that major decisions are being made before public consultations are completed. I’m hoping that the consultation findings on the EYFS will be listened to and considered, before a knee jerk reaction throws the Early Years sector back into the chaos of change.

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Recommended Resources

Breathtakingly Beautiful Land of Me

The amazingly talented team at ‘Made in Me’ understand the lesson that Disney demonstrated in Snow White 50 years ago – attention to detail and watercolour beautiful animations are a winning combination.

They have designed a computerised book, which is issued in themed chapters. Chapter one is shape, size and colour; Chapter 2 the Outside World; Chapter 3 is Making Things and the newly released Chapter 4 is Rhythm and Dance. The story is based around 3 animated friends – Buddy Boo the bear, Eric the raccoon and Willow the Owl. They can imagine being different things, but the three properties of the imagined objects are chosen by the child using the programme.

Once chosen, a picture of the imagined object appears. Clicking on the picture animates it. By changing the words in the descriptive speech bubble, the picture changes.

The stated aim of this delightful software is to promote discussion between the computer users, whether that is parent and child or children working together – the ‘sustained shared thinking’ of the EPPE research. I was initially concerned that the temptation would be to just leave the child to their own devices but when I left my youngest son alone with the first chapter, all he wanted to do was show me the pictures he had created!

The educational consultant on the project, Professor John Siraj-Blatchford has been able to optimise the learning opportunities such as symbols representing objects and the connections between words and actions. It is a great idea to be able to print the pictures and related activities. In my experience this is exactly what children will want to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed using this programme. It was very refreshing to hear English accents and the instructions are clear. There are only 3 options to choose from, but this is probably enough for very young children.

Personally I think, just as Disney 50 years ago, Made in Me have created a classic against which others will be measured in years to come.

The Land of Me can be downloaded very easily at www.madeinme.com Enjoy!

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In the News

Paying for summer holiday care

Picture courtesy RLHyde

Frank Field is the man charged with the unenviable task of tackling poverty. His report to the PM David Cameron on ‘poverty and life-chances review’ is due week commencing 13th September 2010.

Mr Field has had a lot to consider in the short time since he was appointed. One of his recommendations, as reported by The Times on Saturday 11th September 2010, is that poorer parents should be given money so they can enrol their children in activities that other children enjoy over the long summer holidays.

It is a logical idea.

It solves two problems at once: the children are supported with worthwhile activities, whilst the parents have childcare so they can work.

However, this has been tried before, albeit in a slightly different guise.

Currently Working Tax Credit can be used to pay for nursery places. The children are in a safe, stimulating environment and the parents are able to work. The parents receive the money directly, as proposed in the new scheme by Mr. Field.

What happens in reality is that the parents receive the money, take the childcare places and may or may not pay the nursery. Although I have not done extensive research or analysis of this phenomenon, I do know, speaking to a number of nurseries, that this is a real problem. A review of the threads on the Nursery World Forum shows that my experiences are far from unique.

Until these sorts of issues are cleared up, should we even be considering compounding the problem for other businesses?

Before pumping money into a well meaning scheme, we need to be sure that the methods used will produce the results required.

As George Santayana wrote:
“If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it”

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Reflective Practice and the EYP

EYPS, reflective practice and how this can improve outcomes for children at a setting
Reflective practice is one of the tools which can be used by Early Years Professionals to fulfil their role as ‘change agent’, which is at the heart of the Early Years Professional Status (CWDC, 2008). By structured reflection on current practice the EYP can identify what change is valuable, worthwhile and improving.

Methods vary from setting to setting. Practitioners may have personal reflective log books which are then reviewed regularly. Reflection can be done as a team in staff meetings. Documents such as the Self Evaluation Form (SEF) and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) are valuable starting points.

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EYPs – what’s next for Continued Professional Development?

CPD Beyond the EYP: What are the Options?

I achieved my EYP status in 2008 and since then the nature of my work has changed completely. I am now much more focused on training and coaching other practitioners and so recently I was prompted to think about the next steps in my continued professional development. From talking with other EYPs and from discussions at our Cheshire EYP network, it seems I’m not the only one doing so.

Most people fall into one of two camps: those who have an interest in broadening and deepening their knowledge and those who now find their new job roles as EYPs are calling for new skills.

New Skills for a New Role

Depending on their role and the size and organisation of their setting, EYPs may need a variety of new skills.

Leadership and management. These courses are particularly relevant for EYPs who have taken on management responsibilities within their setting as part of the EYP role.

Train the trainer and Presentation skills. Many EYPs are now finding that they are taking a training and development role for their staff, having never been taught to train adults. In house training can be a particularly valuable and cost effective tool for raising the standard of practice within a setting.

Recruitment and selection. Some EYPS will already be familiar with recruitment of other staff, but others, particularly those who have been employed for the first time as an EYP, may find this a particularly daunting part of the job.

Innovation, change, creativity and reflective practice. This is a core set of skills for the EYP who is a leading change agent in their setting. Reflective practice is a good place to start innovation and change. It is also vital that new ideas and practice needs to be coupled with sustainability.

Mentoring and coaching skills. The best settings will always be encouraging practitioners with their own CPD. By involving the EYP as mentor and/or coach within the setting there are mutual benefits. It’s great CPD for the EYP and the practitioners being mentored will benefit.

Assessing, mentoring and moderating. Some Universities approach their EYPs to come back and assess on the EYP course. This has the benefit of the assessor having firsthand experience of the amount of time and work which goes into achieving the Status.

Broadening and Deepening Your Knowledge

Some EYPs may want to become an expert on specific subjects such as schemas or see a future career as trainers, lecturers or researchers. For them, more advanced qualifications, such as the DTLLS, may be appropriate.

Masters degree. Some EYPs find that they have developed specific interests and would like to pursue these in more depth. The setting will benefit from having a highly knowledgeable practitioner who can lead practice in that area.

Research. Research studies are invaluable to moving our knowledge forward about children’s learning and development. Universities and institutes such as the Max Planck institute may have research opportunities for EYPs to investigate an area of interest or particular relevance to their work.

How to Decide What to do Next

But how do you decide your CPD route?

First you have to consider the needs of your current role. Are there any skills gaps, what are you being expected to do? If you find that your role has changed, but you have received no training, then the skills route would be most suitable.

Next you need should consider how your future career may develop and how your CPD could lay the foundations for this. Would you like to move into a management role or possibly become a mentor and coach for other EYPs? This may need a combination of skills updating as well as some more academic qualifications.

Finally you should have an interest in the subject area. We all know that children learn best when they are doing something they are interested in and in my experience, it’s even more true of adults.


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 courtesy of Lumax Art


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Recommended Resources

Book Review: Early Childhood Education by Nutbrown, Clough and Selbie

‘Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience’, written by Cathy Nutbrown, Peter Clough and Philip Selbie, published in 2008 by Sage, London.

The authors

‘Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience’ aims to investigate the origins of ideas in early childhood education and how they now affect present day practices. In this book, Peter Clough notes that his own history ‘was shaped by the times I was born and brought up in, and how as a person and a teacher I inherited a world of meanings laid down by other people and their values and their times.’ (p77). This is the very heart of the book. It’s about learning how the past affects us now, so lessons can be learned for the future.

All the authors have in-depth knowledge of the subject area and have considerable experience writing in this field. This comes through very clearly in the breadth and depth of the pioneers explored. The authors have used each of their own strengths to good effect – Clough’s narrative inquiry, Nutbrown’s knowledge of early literacy and Selbie’s knowledge of Comenius – making the whole book larger than the sum of its parts.

A short history

‘Early Childhood Education’ starts with a short history. This takes the reader back to the state of education in the 1700s, moving swiftly through to the schools which emerged in the 1800s. Reference is made here to Szreter’s journal article (Szretzer, 1964) which tracks the start of compulsory school age of 5 years old to 1870 with Forster’s Education Act.

The rest of this chapter examines the history of nursery education in Sheffield and Scotland. There then follows a table of 50 influential figures, ranging from Comenius to Dickens to Sir Alec Clegg, with a brief summary of achievements for each. This is an excellent quick reference list, usefully in chronological order so the reader can place the person into historical context. The range of pioneers considered raises this list above the normal type found in text books and makes it very thought provoking. For example Charles Dickens is included because of the attention he drew to the social conditions of children at the time. His descriptive work, with the sensitive observations he made, could be considered to be a form of narrative inquiry.

This particular section made me realise how many people, men and women, had influenced early childhood education, but who aren’t known about.

The chapter concludes with the terrifying fact that there has been an average of one new policy a year for the last 20 years – Bertram and Pascal (2001) describe it as a ‘substantial and unprecedented range of policy initiatives’. I feel that this is likely to be unabated – and will probably increase – with the change in government.

The Pioneers

The next section of the book is a biography of 24 key figures who the authors consider to be pioneers in the world of education. It is acknowledged by the authors that this isn’t a comprehensive list, but one which contains people who were influential to the authors’ own beliefs. This makes for an eclectic mix of names, including Charles Dickens but excluding Bruner, for example.

When compared with similar books, such as Linda Pound’s ‘How children learn’ (2005), the amount of information given about each pioneer is brief and to the point.

Six Conversations

The third section of ‘Early Childhood Education’ is four imagined conversations between pioneers and authors and two conversations between the authors. Personally, it is this section which originally drew me to the book. Having to find a way to explain the theories of pioneers to a group of first year degree students, in a way which was engaging but informative, I turned to the conversations. I found these enlightened my own understanding and enabled me to explain them, in a similar way, to the students.


The first conversation in ‘Early Childhood Education’ is between the three authors, discussing what is important to them and why history matters. It is set in the Cafe Louvre, Prague, in November 2006. In this conversation, we learn about the broad range of pioneers and educational policies which have influenced the author’s own views on early childhood education.

This conversation is an excellent example of the authors ‘practicing what they preach’, in that it illustrates to the reader how pioneers, recent or otherwise, have affected them, their philosophy and their practice personally. Interestingly, although there was some commonality (for example Pestalozzi was cited as an influence by all three authors) there were many more differences, showing how no two people are influenced in the same way, even if they are exposed to similar things, even in the same University.

The second conversation is between Selbie, John Comenius and Robert Owen. Their conversation highlights the way the two pioneers believe in the often forgotten issue of respect for young children, through education and treatment.

In conversation 3, Clough talks to Susan Sutherland Isaacs about what really motivates children to learn.  Clough cleverly draws out the information so it sounds like a natural conversation. He adds much of his own insight into the conversation. So, although we learn a lot about Isaacs, her view on scientific investigation and home learning environment, we also learn about Comenius, Owen, Nutbrown, Montessori and Piaget via Clough’s contributions.

This conversation is very worthwhile because Isaacs’ work is often misunderstood, and sometimes sidelined, with the most prominence given to the freedom that the children enjoyed rather than for example, her work on intellectual growth and social development. In this conversation we can begin to understand her beliefs and her philosophy behind the discovery of knowledge in young children.

Conversation four is between three theorists – Pestalozzi, Piaget and Froebel – about how young children learn.

Conversation five is between Steiner and Nutbrown and concentrates on literacy in the early years. Nutbrown is particularly linked to early literacy, having written several books and many articles on the subject. Nutbrown and Steiner find common ground with ‘too much too soon can be detrimental’ (p124), ‘anthropomorphism’ (p125) and ‘education for life’ (p125), but agree to disagree on boys sharing books with their fathers.

Conversation six takes us back to the beginning, with two of the authors, Clough and Nutbrown, discussing the role of faith and religious conviction in early childhood education.

But why does narrative enquiry work so well in this context? I believe it works because the subject of ‘research’ is or was a living person. Compared to other books, such as Pound (2005), the reader has to consider their own view point on the pioneer’s stance about early childhood education. But not only that, the reader also has to think about their position on the author’s line of questioning or facilitation.

This was in equal measure enjoyable and frustrating. It was very interesting to see how Clough’s line of questioning allows Isaacs to explain her theories. Inevitably there are questions I would have asked, but weren’t. There were questions I would have asked Steiner, for example, about his research or reasoning behind delaying formal reading until ‘the coming of the second teeth’.

The potential pitfall of narrative inquiry is that the reader is reliant on the author’s interpretation of the educationalists philosophy and beliefs. The author has the power to exclude the elements that are not in support of the argument being made, whether this is intentionally or otherwise.  This has been avoided in this book, because of the authors’ deep understanding of the pioneers and their works. For example, it would be easy for the authors’ to choose pioneers who agree with their own philosophy, but instead Nutbrown chooses to talk to Steiner, but without biasing Steiner’s opinions so the reader can get a true picture of his philosophy.

The more things change…

The final section of the book looks at seven themes selected by the authors which considers current day policy and explores where the roots of those policies may have come from. The seven themes are:

  • Children’s Rights
  • The Arts and creativity
  • Literacy
  • Play, learning and pedagogy
  • Early Intervention
  • Home learning and parents
  • Inclusion

Each theme is discussed from a current perspective, regarding current policies and practice, but then the ‘roots’ are uncovered, proving there is very little which is truly new in early childhood education. This is an essential part of the book as it brings it right up to date and makes the connection between current policy and the pioneers.

It is very often the speed of change, along with being constantly bombarded with new policies, that is the challenge for modern pioneers. However, progress is being made. For example, The Early Years Foundation Stage mentions schema unambiguously for the first time. Athey and Nutbrown’s work have moved schema into main stream knowledge.


This book is a very useful reference book for the practitioner (or politician) who is trying to understand how we got to where we are now and how we can move forward.

The authors have a range of expertise which is brought together with good effect, each playing to their strengths.

The use of narrative inquiry is excellent, illuminating theories and bringing to life the pioneers. This is a particularly difficult method to master but has been used to very good effect here. The use of narrative inquiry is a growing topic in educational research, gaining credibility as a serious way of presenting or re-presenting data.

The book is pitched at the correct level for degree and masters students who want to investigate the history of pioneers and understand the philosophies which affect everyday practice today. There are plenty of references for further reading and seminal texts by the pioneers.

Overall, the book is a thought provoking read, particularly now, with the change in government and reviews of educational policy. Until practitioners can understand how early childhood education has evolved from the blend of ideas from pioneers over many decades, they cannot determine its effectiveness for the future.


Athey, C (2007) Extending Thought in Young Children: A Parent – Teacher Partnership, London, Paul Chapman Publishing

Bertram, T and Pascal, C (2001) the OECD thematic review of early childhood education and care: background report for the United Kingdom. Retrieved December 11 2009 from

www.melynconsulting.co.uk/toolkit/Section_2/ OECD.pdf.

Nutbrown, C, Clough, P and Selbie, P (2008) Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience London: Sage

Pound, L (2005) How Children Learn, London, Step Forward Publishing

Szreter, R., (1964) “The origins of full-time compulsory education at five” from British journal of educational studies 13 (1) pp.16-28, London: Faber & Faber

** This book review was first submitted as part of the Masters in Early Childhood Education, University of Sheffield.

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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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