Questioning assessment practices in Early Years

This month, in our ongoing collaboration with Edge Hill University curated by ALICIA BLANCO-BAYO, Early Years Lecturer and WTEY Programme Leader at the University’s Faculty of Education, we’re delighted to hear from HARRIET RINFRET, a Y2 student studying BA(Hons) Working and Teaching in the Early Years, who has a passion for working with and supporting the lives of young children.

Upon starting their journey through the National Curriculum, at age five, children have already experienced two assessment processes: the progress check, at age two, and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Profile, at the end of the EYFS phase (Department for Education (DfE), 2017). While these assessments are identified as being important in helping practitioners and parents to identify children’s progress and support it in the most effective way (DfE, 2017), current campaigns, such as ‘More Than A Score’, question the extent to which testing regimes are necessary for children, including those of pre-school age. In the current climate, where children’s learning has been severely

disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic, the introduction of a new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) has been postponed until September 2021. Instantly, this could convey assessment processes as being unnecessary for young children, as introducing this assessment was clearly seen as a source of further disruption to their learning. Moreover, research by Roberts-Holmes, Lee, Sousa and Jones (2019) found that, in piloted practice, only 3% of teachers believed that the RBA had a positive impact on the settling-in of young children into Reception, with a further 69% disagreeing with the proposal that this assessment would support children in developing positive relationships with their Reception teachers. The disruption that this suggests could, potentially, have adverse effects on children’s personal, social and emotional development (PSED), which is often viewed as being of the highest importance in their learning and development during the EYFS phase (Brodie, 2018). With a recent review of the EYFS Statutory Framework identifying a need for PSED to be of greater prominence in supporting young children’s development (Pascal, Bertram and Rouse, 2019), and the revised EYFS Statutory Framework (DfE, 2020) continuing to emphasise the need for children to develop positive relationships, the introduction of the RBA conveys a potential contradiction to the EYFS aim of providing secure development and learning foundations for children (DfE, 2017). However, despite the clear opposition to assessment processes,

recent research, conducted by the Royal Foundation (2020), could suggest that these are important elements of young children’s learning and development. This research found that only 31% of parents recognise the EYFS phase, from birth to age five, as being the most significant developmental period for children (Royal Foundation, 2020). Potentially, this develops an argument, that not all parents are entirely committed to supporting their children’s development in the home environment. Despite the anxieties and pressures that have become associated with assessment, for, both, young children and their teachers (Roberts-Holmes et al, 2019), there could, consequently, be a greater need to formally assess the progress made by young children, to ensure that they reach the expected levels of development, before starting a seemingly more formal education process at school. Whilst the DfE (2020) will continue to outline assessments as a

statutory requirement for the EYFS phase, the extent to which these, and the introduction of news ones, are fundamental to supporting the learning and development of young children, appears to remain questionable.

18 School trips and Covid:

safe alternatives! In her regular column this month, STEMtastic! founder KIRSTY BERTENSHAW looks at some virtual alternatives to the traditional school trip.

School trips have may benefits to students and form an important part of the school experience. School trips are excellent for seeing things we can’t show students in a classroom, such as how technology has changed over time, the size and functionality of space rockets, a journey through space in a planetarium, how people lived in the recent past and even interesting lectures which may be held in the evenings.

Teaching and learning in a different way can be effective at motivating and engaging learners. Students are used to the daily grind of going to school, doing homework, sleeping, then going back to school. The excitement involved in changing the routine and seeing something different is hard to replicate. Due to the current pandemic, school trips are not possible in person. But that doesn’t mean students can’t explore museums and zoos at all – here are some safe, in- school alternatives to school trips in the meantime.

Chester Zoo have made six virtual tours available, each one focusing on certain animals – a great way to see animals in their habitats as described by their keepers.

Longleat Safari Park created a virtual tour in April 2020 which is still available and takes approximately 30 minutes to explore.

The Natural History Museumhas several ways you can explore the exhibits from home or school. Some of the offerings are interactive and allow you to move around the halls seeing different specimens. W

My favourite part of the options available is the Hidden world of the Tank Room, showing you large specimens that you might never see on display – this is one of a few videos available via Google at

If you fancy a tour a little further form home, NASA created a series of virtual tours of the international space station showing you where astronauts sleep and work!

For more independent exploration, Oxford University’s History of Science Museumcan be explored virtually too, with many scientific instruments, old world globes and the larger signs can be read on the tour.

Or explore the Great Barrier Reef using Google Street View by opening google maps, finding the Great Barrier Reef and dropping the person icon onto the area. You can see corals, sponges, anemones, and fish to name a few organisms that can be clearly viewed. The Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon, The Colosseum and Stonehenge can also be explored this way, so you can travel from your classroom without ever leaving your seats.

If you want to really replicate the feeling of a school trip, a live interactive tour is the next best thing!

You can have a live interactive tour of Plymouth Aquariumwhere the staff take you around tanks and talk about each animal, their food sources, their behaviours, adaptations, and conservation efforts. These can be differentiated to each age group and focus on different areas depending on what you ask for. I have experienced one of these tours and they are fantastic, allowing students to ask questions as they think of them.

The British Museumis offering free one hour workshops to students aged 7-11 in UK schools. These are live and fully interactive. There are several workshops to choose from, each with a theme, but they book up quickly! centre/virtual-visits

Alternatively, you could have a virtual school visit by inviting a STEM ambassador to talk about their career and answer questions using a video platform!

Kirsty is the founder of STEMtastic, an education consultancy with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

January 2021

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