Published on: 20 Mar 2015

Can more be done to get the right support in place for children sooner?

Why we need a more complete picture of a child

By Greg Watson, Chief Executive, GL Assessment

I have been following with interest the wave of debate sparked by the introduction of the Reception baseline. I think now’s a good time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Reception teachers already baseline children through a range of techniques – including observation and talking to parents – and there is absolutely no suggestion that this should cease.  But concerns have been raised about the current set-up by Ofsted’s National Lead for the Early Years, highlighting a lack of evidence currently used to back up observations.

There are also a number of children who are currently not making the progress they should be in reading, writing and maths. And the achievement gap between pupils on free school meals and their peers remains stubbornly at 20%. So, can more be done to get the right support in place for children sooner?

The opportunity for early intervention (which has a key part to play in narrowing the gap) requires teachers to be able to identify accurately each child's pattern of strengths and difficulties.

Observation over time is important for understanding our EYFS children's strengths and difficulties, their dispositions and dislikes. However, let’s be clear. Observation is not the only way of gaining information about children. 

The best practitioners will 'triangulate' their observation findings with other information, such as that received from parents/carers or through conversations that they have initiated with children. Our own Reception assessment, Baseline, also gives practitioners an opportunity to get information over and above that which can be easily gained through observation.  It adds to rather than takes away from observation.

Some skills lend themselves to being identified through observation quickly and accurately. However, certain skills do not lend themselves to being easily identified in this way. For example, it is hard to gather information about phonological processing through observation alone.  A number of the skills that are more difficult to identify through child-led play, and through observation alone, underpin early literacy and numeracy.  By having a baseline that includes questions or activities that prompt children to show these early skills in a way that they enjoy, practitioners will be able to intervene as quickly as possible. Early intervention means optimal outcomes for children. 

As the debate continues, it is essential that the Reception baseline is seen as it’s meant to be – a means of embellishing what teachers already know about children. It needs to reveal their strengths and weaknesses and provide a rich and more informed picture of the whole child. This will support teachers in understanding what help a child needs. Surely, that can only be a good thing.

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