Category : Articles


Sustained Shared Thinking and your Pedagogy

My new online course on Sustained Shared Thinking is now available. You can get it at a special price here…
» The Sustained Shared Thinking Online Course «

In a previous post on Sustained Shared Thinking I spoke about how important Sustained Shared Thinking is to good practice. Since that post in 2009, the EYFS has been updated and Sustained Shared Thinking now appears on page 7 of Development Matters (2012), the EYFS guidance from Early Education.

Sustained Shared Thinking still appears in the new Teacher’s Standards (Early Years) (Sept. 2013) in Standard 2.4, a replacement for Standard 16 in the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS).

It would seem that Sustained Shared Thinking is here to stay – which I think is really good news. However, that now leaves the question of “How can I ensure Sustained Shared Thinking is  part of my pedagogy?”

Pedagogy, in its simplest form, is the way that we teach, educate or scaffold children’s learning. It is the way that we, as  practitioners, create an environment that encourages children to learn for themselves, to solve problems and extend their own thought processes.

It is more than just what we teach, it is how the idea is embedded into everything that we do, from our own personal approach to the environment.

So how can we ensure that we are both engaging  in Sustained Shared Thinking AND giving children the environment that encourages it?

One way is to make sure that all the practitioners in your setting (whether that is the Teaching Assistant, Childminder’s assistant or your setting manager) are aware of the powerful learning that is taking place when you are talking and actively listening to the children.

There should be areas in the setting where extended conversations are encouraged, for example, quiet, cosy areas; dens; outdoor corners and during small group time. Even simple activities such as nappy change time is an opportunity to chat to your child – to encourage the good eye contact and taking turns in ‘talking’ – that will create masterful conversationalists.

Sustained conversations may take place whilst waiting for snack or lunch or on the carpet after story time. They may happen equally outside, whilst looking for mini-beasts or playing a circle game.

Secondly, wherever, and whenever, these opportunities present themselves, you and your fellow practitioners should grasp them with both hands. You don’t know when, or if, your child will what to explore that particularly idea again.

Carefully observe your children and note when they are the most likely to want to talk, then make sure that you have some time to meet their needs on that occasion. This could mean cutting short a circle time or allowing extra time to get coats on – but Sustained Shared Thinking is so important that these are worthwhile sacrifices.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure that all practitioners value and support conversations with the children, making it a bedrock of your pedagogy.

My new book on Sustained Shared Thinking is now published by David Fulton. Find out more about supportive environments for Sustained Shared Thinking in Chapter 6.

My new online course on Sustained Shared Thinking is now available. You can get it at a special price here…
» The Sustained Shared Thinking Online Course «

And to read my ultimate guide to Sustained Shared thinking, click here:

» The Ultimate Guide To Sustained Shared Thinking «


Early Education (2012) Development Matters London: Early Education

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Children and their Future

This week I was teaching on a SENCO course and the topic of new technology came up. Now, I’m old enough to remember when ‘video-phones’ were a thing of science fiction. But these days my 5 year old nephew is as likely to Face-time me as he is to phone and it’s something that is absolutely normal for him.

So how do young children view technology today?

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Summer is Here and the Outdoors Awaits

As the Summer officially begins today and we have felt some of the warm weather as well, I thought it would be fun to share some outdoor images with you today.

These illustrate some of the great ideas and activities that the practitioners in a nursery in Liverpool created during our recent outdoor play training morning.

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Ofsted inspections 2012

Ofsted Inspections 2012

**Note that the latest inspection document came out in Sept 2014 and can be found here: Early Years Inspections, Ofsted  Please do go to Penny’s blog to see an update on her latest experiences with Ofsted inspections. The post below was initially published in July, 2012.

The new guidance for Ofsted inspections that will be used from September 2012 is now out. It makes for interesting reading, not least because the emphasis is on direct observation of practice.

But what is it like to actually be inspected under the new regime?

Penny Webb is a highly experienced childcare professional, who has worked across the spectrum of childcare and is an ‘Outstanding’ Childminder. I was very excited when she agreed to write about her experiences of a pilot inspection, along with some recommendations to make the most of the inspection.

My name is Penny Webb and I am an Ofsted Registered Childminder, in my last inspection in October 2010, I was graded Outstanding. I have a wide range of other experiences including working for the National Childminding Association and Worcestershire Early Years and Childcare Service, lecturing and assessing for child care courses and carrying out quality assurance scheme assessments.

In January 2012 I took part in pilot inspections for the revised EYFS and Ofsted inspection framework. I was phoned on the Thursday and asked if still willing to take part, phoned again on the Friday to be told the inspection would take place the following Tuesday and received the paperwork to support the inspection on the Saturday. So all in all not a lot of time to get my head round what was then the draft revised EYFS, the inspection process, and all the changes.

I admit that panic did set in over the weekend as I hurt my leg and spent most of the weekend in a lot of pain with repeated trips to Primary Care, and as a result any hope of ‘preparing’ went out of the window. However I went ahead with the inspection, (which was a full inspection without any corners being cut) and was delighted to be told that if it had been a ‘real’ inspection I would have been awarded Outstanding.

It is therefore because of my experiences with the pilot that I am writing this blog as I feel I have an advantage point from which to comment.

Ofsted Inspection Framework for EYFS Inspections from September 2012
Last week Ofsted published their ‘Evaluation Schedule of inspection of registered early years provision. In everyday language this is the document that inspectors should consult when making judgements (and therefore giving grades) during inspections as from 3rd September 2012.

My personal thoughts are that although there have been changes to the wording of the EYFS 2012 and the inspection framework documents since the draft documents, the guiding principles and changes to inspection that I experienced in the pilot remain in place. Therefore I am confident that my reflections are valid and an accurate ‘heads up’ as to what inspections will be like from September 12.

So let’s start to put the new inspection evaluation schedule document into context, it says in the introduction on page four:

Point 4 The evaluation schedule must be used in conjunction with the guidance set out in Conducting early years inspections, the Statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage 2012 and Development matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

This is important because it means that all these documents mentioned above must be used together – none of them give all the information on their own.

Point 3 The outline guidance is not exhaustive but is intended to guide inspectors on the range and type of evidence they might collect.

Again important, because it means that inspectors may still gather ‘evidence’ in other ways – so some personal interpretation is possible. However it is very clear that inspectors must gather their main evidence from direct observation (Page 7 – point 14) and must take account of the context of the provision inspected, in particular children’s ages, stages of development, the amount of time children spend at the setting each week, and the length of time children that attend for (page 5 – point 7).

The evaluation document is 16 pages long and needs to be read in full by all early years practitioners, and will be looked at in more detail in a future blog. As a starting point I will reflect on the things that stood out to me as being ‘different’.


The inspector for my pilot inspection hand wrote her notes, this was brilliant as the inspector moved freely around my setting and was able to directly observe activities and ask myself and the children questions throughout the inspection. I understand some pilot inspectors did use laptops and this personal choice about laptops led to much debate during feedback about the pilots. Everyone felt that it was better if inspectors did not use laptops but it was pointed out that some inspectors would prefer to use laptops in the settings.

The observations (including a 30 minute detailed observation) were central to the judgements made – during feedback the inspector referred constantly to her observations, and therefore it was quite easy for me to see how she reached those decisions. I think that in cases where the practitioner wanted to query the judgement made, it would be possible to discuss evidence used and judgements made.

I was very reassured by the inspectors constant reference to ‘age and stage appropriate’ as on the day I had 4 children who were either just 2 or almost 2, and I had worried about how the inspector would be able to judge the progress being made by the children (a key factor for judgements). The inspector was able to identify progress made by referring to ‘starting points’ both from my written records and through discussion, and took on board the fact that one child is bilingual so speech development was slightly delayed.

Personally I think it is very important to give the inspector as much information as possible about the children on the day – even little things like as in my case you have twins in your care.

On the subject of providing information to inspectors, I think it is very important that you give a verbal explanation about the environment provided – especially if like me you do not forward plan in detail or have changed the environment to meet the needs of the children – but the changes have not yet made it to the recording paperwork.

In childminder settings it is common practice to set up an environment with continuous provision and / or resources to support stages of development and interests – but then throughout the day to ‘go with the flow’ making changes as needed, which get recorded at the end of day.

As an example I informed the inspector that the duplo was provided because I had observed that the children were starting to construct two and three piece models, that one child had an interest in tractors (some in duplo collection) – and I was supporting sharing and development of small world play.

The other main difference that I noted was the lack of checking of paperwork – yes the inspector did look at documents – but she only spent minutes not hours doing this. She was not that interested in my certificates but wanted to discuss how my training had been put to use and the impact on the children / setting.

She glanced at risk assessments but asked lots of questions about how I kept the children safe – and had observed incidents of this aspect. She looked at learning journeys but was more interested in discussing interests and next step plans with me – using her own observations of the children to access my knowledge and skill.

In summary I found the pilot inspection very positive, it was focussed on the children and their progress, evidence was based mainly on observations and discussions and paperwork was used as secondary evidence rather than primary evidence. My understanding is that my experiences should be the ‘norm’ for inspections from September 12 – I hope this is the case.

Conducting Early Years inspections http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/using-early-years-evaluation-schedule-guidance-for-inspectors-of-registered-early-years-settings-req

Statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage 2012, DfE, 2012; https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/AllPublications/Page1/DFE-00023-2012 .

Development matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage, DfE, 2012;

Penny’s website can be found here and her LinkedIn profile is here


Many thanks to Mike for the image

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Putting children at the centre of enabling environments

I had the great privilege of meeting Julie Cigman when we were judging the Nursery World Awards together this year. She is an incredibly knowledgeable and well published author (check out her website! www.juliecigman.co.uk) and we soon found we had lots to talk about.

One area of common interest is ‘enabling environments’. It is such a fundamental part of any setting, be it a nursery, childminder, Children’s Centre or school, that it is essential to get it right. But what does this mean, what does it look like, how could you describe it?

This blog answers those questions, giving some super examples as well.

Putting children at the centre of enabling environments

Julie Cigman

Walk into any Early Years setting and look around you. How can you tell if the children feel comfortable and valued enough to be able to follow their interests, take the initiative in their learning, take on challenges and be resourceful?
How can you find out if the environment you have provided is truly ‘enabling’, so that every child is ‘like a fish in water’? (Sics-ziko-manual, p.7) I have found the Leuven Well-being and Involvement Scales very useful in evaluating the relationship between the child and their Early Years provision.

What are the Well-being and Involvement scales?

Children who score highly on the Well-being Scales are self-confident and in touch with themselves. The Well-being Scales allow us to see if children are having fun; if they radiate vitality as well as comfortable relaxation; if they are open and receptive to experiences. They have their basic physical needs met, but also their emotional needs, their need for clear boundaries, their need for acceptance and affirmation – and their need to be connected to some greater meaning than their own individual needs.

The Involvement Scales help us to know if children are at the limits of their capabilities – deeply engaged in their play, following their fascinations, sufficiently challenged, with high levels of concentration. This happens in stimulating environments where levels of Well-being are high.

What do high levels of Well-being and involvement look like?

When I visit settings as a consultant, I find myself drawn towards the groups of children displaying the highest involvement levels, as this is where I see the most interesting play and learning.

Tariq and Andrew were in their EYFS school garden, playing by a wooden boat.
“We’re making a boat, not just a boat, we’re making a house.” Tariq walked round the boat with different plastic tools, saying “sparks, sparks, sparks, sparks,” hitting the boat each time he said sparks. “Measure the boat: 45… 28…”
Andrew picked up a sander (it looked like an iron).
“You can’t touch this, it’s hot. See, these ones are very dangerous. Don’t touch these, see? Yow! Yow!”

‘Enabling’ provision

A simple suggestion from a practitioner helped the children take their play on a level while still maintaining their involvement levels. The children knew where to go to get stimulating resources (carefully chosen by practitioners, and made easily accessible) that supported their individual interests and style of play.

Practitioner: “People sometimes wear safety helmets when they’re building.”
Tariq: “Helmets! Let’s get helmets!” He ran off, and came back wearing a builder’s helmet. He tripped over a tool box. “We’re funny builders. Cos we sometimes trip over them.”
Andrew: “We’re off to our next job now. Shall we see you at the next job?” (He picked up his tools).
Practitioner: “Okay, where’s the next job?”
Tariq: “It’s at the house. See you…”
Practitioner: “Have you got a list of all of your jobs?”
Andrew: “Yeh, here…” He pulled an imaginary list out of his pocket and went off talking on a phone (his hand).

In a Year 1 classroom, Jake and Alexi were in the workshop area. Jake was trying to make a model with boxes, but was looking frustrated. Alexi had come to see what he was doing. An adult stepped in briefly to help Jake deal with his frustration, allowing him to maintain his sense of satisfaction and his levels of involvement.

Teacher: “How’s it going?”
Jake: “Not very well.”
Teacher: “Have you got a plan, or are you working it out as you go along?”
Jake: “Aaah, yes… A plan.”
He got a piece of paper and drew a ‘rocket’.
Alexi watched: “Do you want any help?”
Jake: “No.”
Alexi: “What are you making?”
Jake: “A rocket. This is my plan sheet.”
Alexi: “Which bit have you made?”
Jake: “This bit at the bottom. We’re doing this bit. Can you hold the string please?”

The two children worked together, holding the string, cutting, consulting the plan.
Jake: “We’re making cages for trapping the aliens! Look at our rocket! It’s multi-colour!”

What do low levels of Well-being and Involvement look like?

Sadly, there are some settings where the environment is not so enabling – and consequently, where levels of well-being and involvement are low.

Carl is nearly three and a half. He goes to pre-school 5 mornings a week.
Carl wandered around the room then he went into the home corner, where he flopped down onto the carpet. A few minutes later he stood up and wandered across the room, where he ‘play punched’ Troy, making a loud punching sound.
Carl: “You’re dead.”
Both boys started play shooting each other with their fingers, making shooting noises, lying down and jumping up.
Carl rolled a car up the side of the sofa, making car noises, dropped it, rolled on the floor, lay there, then got up. He looked around, went to the home corner and lay on the ground. A few minutes passed then he went and sat on a chair. Mandip walked past, Carl roared at him, Mandip looked startled then walked on.
Carl started play fighting with Troy, using a Sticklebrick ‘gun’.
Carl: “Troy, Troy, Troy, when I shoot you, you have to go down. Troy, Troy, Troy, Troy, Troy, let’s go over there.”
An adult looked over at the two boys from a table where she was leading an activity.
Carl: “Troy, Troy, let’s go over here where no one can see us.”
He went into a hidden corner with Troy and they both lay down on the floor.

When levels of well-being and involvement are low, this tells the setting that they need to look at the relationship between the children and the provision – and adapt the provision – the physical environment and the adult support – accordingly.

The Leuven scales put the child at the centre of the observations, rather than the curriculum. They help us to adapt the environment to the child, rather than expecting very young children to adapt to the environment.

Peer observations using the Leuven Adult Engagement Scales can help practitioners to evaluate levels of sensitivity, stimulation and autonomy in the interactions between staff and children… but that’s another story!


Photo: High levels of involvement in two children, absorbed in making magic potions from miniature bottles of shampoo, spices, oils and creams. They made Magic fairy dust, mermaid’s tears, spiders’ and chickens’ toenails, dragon wee, red poisonous hairy worms and more…


Further reading:

My article for Teach Early Years on How to provide an enabling environment for your children.

“Well-being and Involvement in Care Settings. A process-oriented self-evaluation instrument for care settings” is a manual produced by the Research Centre for Experiential Education in Leuven, Belgium.

Julie Cigman Early Years consultant, trainer and writer
Website: www.juliecigman.co.uk
Email: jcigman@hotmail.co.uk
Twitter: @juliecigman
LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/julie-cigman/21/438/469

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Social Bookmarking – An Essential Tool for Dissertation Students

I’m thrilled that my newest guest blogger, David Renfree, agreed to write me a blog about Social Bookmarking. I have followed David on Twitter (@UCBChildEd) for some time and I regularly retweet the great links he highlights, both on Early Years and the wider Education world.

He includes really interesting things on his blog as well http://bcftcschildhoodeducation.blogspot.co.uk/ Things like film archive material, articles about migrant children, fostering and autism – to name but a few.

Social Bookmarking is something I knew nothing about until David introduced it to me and sincerely wish I had known about it whilst doing my dissertation. It would have made my life a lot easier!

So here is THE article for all you students who are reading up for your dissertations over the summer holidays. And for anyone who has an interest in furthering their knowledge about the Early Years.


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Articles Recommended Resources

Squish, Squash and Squeeze – from Alistair Bryce-Clegg

I am very proud and pleased to have a guest blog today.

I first met Alistair Bryce-Clegg when I asked him to come and ‘close’ our annual North West EYP Conference. He was amazing that day – and has been amazing our EYPs in the North West ever since! If you ever have the opportunity to hear Alistair at a Conference, I would strongly recommend you do so. Inspirational and irreverent in equal measure, and with loads of practical, cheap and useful ideas.

Which brings us to the blog. Alistair has very kindly shared this blog with me, which originally appeared on his site in February. You can find it here. He has also written a number of books, which you can find on Amazon or through your local independent book seller.

I hope you are as inspired as I was on reading these ideas. Enjoy!

Activity Ideas – Squish Squash and Squeeze

By Alistair Bryce-Clegg

It was meant to be a rare day off but it seems that the printing press waits for no man and I had to get my photoshoot sorted out for the next ’50 Fantastic Things’ book.

I have to say a HUGE thank you to Jo and all of the team at Penguins Pre-School in Timperley who were super organised and super helpful and made the shoot run like a dream.

Here are a few of the things that we did…



Mix some food colouring with water in a pot
Put 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil into the bottom of your plastic bag
Then add 4 tablespoons of coloured water
WAIT (and see what happens)
Add 4 tablespoons of golden syrup to the bag.
Zip up the bag and let the children squish.



I know that jelly is a regular favourite but it never fails to get great results. We tried putting jelly into various other containers of different sizes, ice cube trays, freezer bags and even a rubber glove, which made for a very squshy hand shake! In the pots of jelly, I asked Jo and the team to add other ‘items’ for the children to look at and fish out. These caused a great deal of interest.


You can use this idea in SO many ways. It works equally well on a large or small scale.


All you do is to cover a surface (in this case a table) with sticky backed plastic. MAKE SURE THE STICKY SIDE IS UP! You can secure it underneath the table with tape.

Then let the children stick various items onto it to make patterns. They are always fascinated by sticking their hands to it and feeling the resistance as they pull them away.


Dead easy and really effective…


Pink marshmallows in a bowl. Squirt of washing up liquid. Whizz in the microwave until they begin to melt. Cool a bit so as not to burn any fingers. That’s it!

If you use white marsh mallows you can add food colouring to change the colour of your slime.


Hours of fun… White bread, grated or crumbled into a bowl. Add PVA glue a teaspoonful at a time, mixing with your fingers. When the mixture becomes slightly tacky (not sticky), then it is ready. You can model with it and then leave it to air dry.

If you use flour and water paste instead of PVA you can leave your models out for the birds to eat!


The secret to this one is baby wipes!

Mix your gloop (or goop) as usual in a builders tray. Then paint it with food colouring. The best way to do this is to dip the corner of a baby wipe into the food colouring and then hold the clean bit.

That way you can dip and drag your wipe without getting stained fingers.

Once you have made your picture then play in it.


Cook as per the instructions. Add colour if you fancy it. Squish whilst warm!


Just soap flakes, water and a whisk!


What do you think this squashable landscape it made out of?


The answer is Vaseline! Scoop it out onto a glass plate or mirror then put it into the freezer over night. Take it out as you are about to use it. The Vaseline and the plate will have frosted over and stiffened up giving it a completely different texture.

If you want to make your Vaseline creation extra frosty then mist it with a water spray before you freeze it.

Hope that was a little bit of Thursday night inspiration! It was hard work, but great fun.


P.S. Don’t forget to check for food and skin allergies when you are doing any messy play!

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Rabbit free flow play

My name is Rosie and I live with my best friend Daisy at an amazing nursery.

We only arrived a few weeks ago, but we already have lots of friends, both children and their parents. Everyone seems to be interested in us, and it seems to be a great way to start a conversation with a parent.

The nursery owners have built a massive outdoor pen especially so the children can come into the run, with an adult, and stroke us. I love it when the toddlers give me a brush with the soft brush, but Daisy likes the babies tickling behind her ears better. We both like being fed fresh scraps of cabbage and carrot that the children bring from home, proudly carried by the children and creating interest from the parents about what’s happening at nursery.

I heard one of the mums say they had to sign a letter about allergies and getting permission to pet us – but honestly they would have difficulty stopping the children caring for us and being so gentle. I’d never played with babies before, but now I know they aren’t going to hurt me and they aren’t too scary, I really enjoy having them there.

In fact, one toddler was worried about her new baby sibling, but since looking after us she has been much more caring and understanding about new additions to the family. She even has some cuddly toy rabbits at home that she looks after.

Sometimes it does get a bit boring. We do like to be underground sometimes. But in one corner of the pen there has been some digging today. I think the children are looking for worms, but Daisy thinks our owner is putting in some pipes and underground runs for us. That would be fun!

Last weekend we woke up in the shed (which is our home next to the pen) to find a small flap that we could get through all by ourselves, with no one having to come and open the door for us. It was exhilarating to be able to go outside whenever we fancied – sometimes just to sniff the air and come back in, but sometimes to run and jump and enjoy the weather. Of course this means we can also scamper back in whenever the rain starts or if we get cold. I could think of nothing nicer than being able to decide for ourselves when to go out and when to come in.

I like the wind and the feel of the rain on my nose, the smell of the damp earth and the crisp frost on the grass, jumping over the puddles and watching the clouds whip across the sky. Daisy prefers the warm sun on her fur, the scent of summer flowers and the sound of birds chirping, the warm calm of the evening and the gentle first light. Being able to go indoors and outdoors when we like means we can both enjoy our favourite things. It has made us feel very confident and even made us want to explore more!

Daisy and I love having free flow play, but even more than that, we love all the care and nurturing we get from our children and grown ups.

Image by Robobobobo

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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.


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


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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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 (2011) 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 (2013), which gives lots of ideas for schematic play in each of the areas in a setting, such as water, sand, outdoors etc.

If you’d like a book that has underpinning theory and lots of great examples (colour coded), then Laura England’s Schemas: A Practical Handbook (2018) would be a good place to start. Or for lots of illustrated observations of children engaging in schematic play, with ideas of how to extend these schema, Tamsin Grimmer’s Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children (2017) would be an ideal book.

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.

Athey, C (2007) Extending Thought in Young Children (2nd Ed) London: PCP
Featherstone, S. (2013) Again! Again! Understanding schema in young children Featherstone Education
Nutbrown, C. (2011) Threads of Thinking London: Sage
England, L. (2018) Schemas: A Practical Handbook Featherstone Education
Grimmer, T. (2017) Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

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