Anyone who attended the imminent Early Intervention Foundation conference in May would have been reminded of the wide spectrum of professions working with children and young people to help improve their life chances by acting as early as possible.
From police officers to youth workers, SEN teams, teachers and many more, all have the common aim of improving not just the present, but the futures of children and young people.
Several of these professions, such as nursery teachers and assistants, have responsibilities for very young children, and are highly skilled in picking up on the signs that additional support is needed.
But, in the noisy hubbub of a nursery or pre-school, it can be difficult to maintain a handle on which children are developing well and not so well, and to understand underlying issues before they become more difficult to address.
Understanding more about a child’s starting point to secure their future development
When children start their early years education, they do so with varying levels of development in different areas. Whilst one child’s parents may read to them regularly, another child may have had minimal exposure and will need support becoming engaged with books before they can even start to be successful with phonics and other areas of literacy.
Nursery and pre-school staff record the progress of children, not only throughout their early years but also when an initial assessment is made as that child starts in their setting. The child who has had plenty of exposure to books prior to pre-school may have started their early years education with some knowledge of the alphabet, so any literacy milestones passed need assessing in the context of that child’s starting point.
Because early years development involves monitoring a wide range of areas, some local authority teams have started to introduce online portals to help settings keep track of each child’s progress. This also helps them by flagging any problems early so that they can step in to help as soon as possible.
For example, something seemingly innocuous, such as a child’s slower than average progress in self-care, can point to underlying issues such as a learning difficulty when taken into account with their emotional development and how successful they are in forming relationships with their peers.
And for a child who has made lower than expected progress with numeracy, knowing now that they need additional support can prevent them becoming disenfranchised from education when they start reception year at school. In turn, by preventing disengagement from school, the likelihood of negative outcomes later in their lives, such as youth offending or unemployment, is reduced.
Standardised assessment where issues can be identified earlier
Early years assessment has traditionally been a more complex area for local authorities to collate information – because of the vast number of early years settings, there’s also a myriad of different ways of recording and collating the data.
This, in turn, can also make it difficult for local authorities responsible for monitoring children’s progress to compare like with like – if one nursery is recording phonics progress in one way, and another setting is recording it differently, it’s hard to know whether variations are as a result of local phenomena or different ways of measuring development.
This is another reason for authorities embracing self-service portals – not only does the technology help to support the childcare providers in understanding when a child needs additional support, but it also ensures more standardised assessment.
For example, with standardised assessment, if one pre-school provision is recording noticeably lower than expected levels of physical development compared to other settings, this would be immediately apparent to the local authority. The reason may be as simple as a temporary shortage of suitable outdoor space because of building works, or it may point to a staff training issue, perhaps if the assessor has misunderstood the requirement and marking too harshly. Either way, it’s easier to get to the bottom of the issue when levels across settings are recorded in the same way and can be compared.