Keeping Early Years Unique- The blog

Let's dance- Progression in the Early Years

So like many of you I have had another full on day of teaching...but this is a blog that I HAD to write. I am not writing it expecting masses of people to read it- but for the theraputic nature of getting my thoughts onto paper (albeit a virtual sheet) and in the hope that:


a) I may find I am not alone in my thoughts

b) maybe someone will read it, and feel reassured and empowered to "keep buggering on" (to quote a good friend and fellow EYs rebel!)


So let me begin at the beginning. Right now the world of Early Years is a very busy place to be. We are working through a pandemic. Many of us never closed our doors. Many of us are struggling to keep afloat financially due to the severe lack of funding and the challenges keep coming.  


We have a new EYFS around the corner. Those of you who know me, will know the concerns I have shared publicly around this through the Right from the start campaign, a grassroots movement urging the government to revoke its high pressure reforms with their focus on recall of facts, what is learned from books and the misinterpretation of self regulation as self control and doing as you are told.


There has been no CPD bar a few vlogs, blogs and articles. The exemplification materials are naturally delayed and yet the changes rumble on- when in fact surely it would have made more sense to delay for one more year to give us all time to really reflect and consider where we are headed!


Any how- that doesnt seem to look very likely- despite the DFE's strong messages around wanting to reduce our workload- so early years educators are doing what they always do best. Trying to make sense of things, trying to find a way to make things work using the very scant information given. This has led some to the idea of a progress curriculum- with educators trying to create documents showing how their children will progress under the illusion this is what OFSTED wants or requires. Let's be clear. They don't. How can I be so certain? Because I asked them. 

Many discussions around progress documents, basically documents setting out the progress children will make over time in small steps, so far tend to have been led by the Early Adopters. I can undertand why. They are trying to adopt a new framework with a view to getting to grips with it before roll out- but they have had to work through a pandemic. Last night progress documents were discussed within the Keeping Early Years Unique group- and as a group commited to play and child development- it really got me thinking...


Right now there are SLTs out there asking EYs colleagues to draw up progression documents, and EYs colleagues out there feeling they need to. I would say to quote my good friend Dr Sue Allingham. Ask yourself the question that must be asked: "Why?"  Whose benefit is this for?  Why are you doing it? Does anyone really think documenting when children can access certain resources or which wheeled toys they can use when and in which order will impact on children's learning? After 20+ years of working with young children- please take it from me- a document, a list of skills doesn't help children learn. You do, 


Ironically, but when documents attempt to stipulate what children can access and when- in this attempt to enable progress- what if we actually disable learning, what if we put a ceiling on learning, or put a lid on it. How could such a document claim to be about progress? We are all commited to ensuring our children grow, develop and thrive in our care- surely we don't need a piece of paper to do this? 


YES to reflecting on child development.

YES to looking at learning trajectories and the many pathways children take on their learning journey.


But reducing this by writing it into a document? No. And even if you tried? Well it would be more than a few pages of A4.


Any of us who have studied child development will know that it isn’t neat and tidy- it doesn't fit into neat boxes or grids. Neither does learning. Neither does responsive teaching. Instead like the pioneers of past and present we need to focus on being that tuned in adult- who listens, observes, respects and interacts in the ways that we know will make a difference for the child in that very moment.


Yes- we are surrounded by so much change right now- but don’t get sucked into this crazy vortex! Hold on to what you know about teaching and learning and about what REALLY makes the difference.


I have been on this roundabout before. A few short years ago I went on a training course, a very entertaining training course and I returned with pages of notes and anecdotes that actually told me very little! I  took the advice given and returned to my setting ready to level digging implements. I made signs to hang above the sand tray showing what all children could do, what most could do and what some could do.  Reality hit me before I went much further. The signs were never hung, the implements never put into levelled trays and I realised I had been sucked into a vortex- a parallel universe in my bid to get our provision right- after all OFSTED were due and surely it was what they wanted to see wasn't it?? I finally woke up and remembered that my wonderful children were driven by fascinations and an intrinsic desire to learn. Not whether they should be using a tea spoon or a shovel to fill a bucket or egg cup.


On this ever spinning carousel I have  also tried over the years to plot out DM across the terms. I have children almost a year apart in age. So guess what- it doesn’t work! I wrote it out, cut it out and pasted it, printed out the grids but again guess what? The children do what they do- they are motivated engaged learners driven by that intrinsic desire to learn- they couldn't care less what they need to learn in the autumn term according to my grid. In short- who did this impact on the most? Well it wasn't the children's progress but it was my workload.


So what is the alternative? What should we be doing? How can make sure our children make progress and reach their full potential? Well- I think this quote from the new Birth to Five Matters document pretty much hits the nail on the head.


Let's dance with our children around the ballroom.

Let them take us by the hand- and let's follow their lead.

There will be times when we need to take the lead and that’s important. We are all teachers and we teach. Just remember that for children to respond to your lead and to want to join you in the dance- they need to know you are partner who respects and values them.


It’s a simplisitic and reductionist view of children, their learning and development to assume that that we can put up a ladder for them all to climb. We can't. There are even discussions about how they need to climb the ladder at the same time? Worse still this model disregards the amazing dance that is learning and teaching in the early years. A dance that we are all experts in whilst those deciding policy would definitely find themselves at the bottom of the leaderboard.


So back to progression documents?


It’s a no from me. I like dancing too much.


How about you?


Write a comment


  • Laura Carter (Sunday, March 28 21 08:54 am BST)

    Beautiful words.

  • Ruth smith (Sunday, March 28 21 09:06 am BST)

    Yes Elaine, I am totally with you on this.
    I found myself thinking... "but do we need progression maps for those staff new to early years?" and then I thought, no, they just need to dig deep and do the reading. Learn about child development by reading, being with the children, asking questions, watching the children and our very experienced staff then it will mean so much more and stay with them for longer.
    I love your term 'sucked into the vortex'. It's so easy for this to happen no matter how experienced you are.
    Thank you for reminding us of this👍

  • Jeanette Kershaw (Sunday, March 28 21 09:35 am BST)

    This is so reassuring to read Elaine. Thankyou

  • Lara Harrey (Sunday, March 28 21 10:09 am BST)

    Thank you Elaine, this has made me feel so much better about all of this.
    I started becoming quite panicky about the idea of doing progression documents for everything. Apart from Maths and Phonics, my gut says listen to what the children are telling us and watch what they do. Then we will know what needs to be discreetly taught and what the children will be interested in.

  • Nicola Ward (Sunday, March 28 21 10:09 am BST)

    I totally get what you’re saying. I think it’s much easier if you’ve been in early years for a while. I have been teaching for 20 years in either nursery or reception and feel I can look at it and decide if there is anything we want to add to our already good practice. I think each setting will need to do what they think is right for their children and staff. If your staff need support in looking at what progression looks like then that should be your focus. Really for me your intent of your curriculum should be enough. What is it you want your children to learn and experience. Hoe are you going to do it, did it work by the time the children left you? Do you have happy children that love coming and are they curious learners, building up their skills and knowledge?

  • Nicola Ward (Sunday, March 28 21 11:35 am BST)

    I totally get what you are saying and think it’s so much easier if you’ve ‘been’ in early years for a while. I think you need to look at where you are as a setting, what works well and are there bits from the new documents which would be helpful to add or discuss. If your staff need to look at what progression looks like to support practice then start there. I don’t think progression in skills are necessary. We are looking at what children come in like and how our curriculum supports them in all areas to be happy, curious learners building up a range of skills and knowledge. It’s a lovely feeling when you see progress in action - children using new words, making up more detailed stories, getting long with others, exploring new resources and their ideas.

  • Emily (Sunday, March 28 21 11:59 am BST)

    Thank you for writing this is exactly what I've been thinking but I was starting to fall into 'the vortex' and was planning on spending my Easter hols writing progression maps!! 🤯🤯 Who is it all for and what impact will it have on my children? These are the 2 questions I always ask myself!!

  • Ruth (Sunday, March 28 21 12:21 pm BST)

    Yes yes bloody yes!!!!!
    We need to be listened to and led by people who actually know what they are talking about! Great blog piece

Please enter the code
* Required fields