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Thinking about quality in early years settings

An effective early years setting will be ambitious to become better. It should have a plan to:

  • improve quality
  • support those children who might be in danger of falling behind

Think about:

  • what the children bring to your setting and what they need you to offer them
  • whether this highlights areas for improving what you offer in your setting, such as improving staff knowledge and skills

For example, if many of your children have limited space to play and you need to spend more time on supporting their physical development then your plan for improving quality might be to focus on professional development for staff in this area.

To help you decide what improvements to make, consider how your programme will lead to:

  • children learning better
  • children having improved health and wellbeing
  • children experiencing better care

Think about:

  • whether there is a training need
  • what you would like the training to cover
  • how you will implement what is learnt
  • how you will measure the impact for the children (3 ‘I’s)

To help you evaluate your practice, you could refer to Development Matters 2020 ‘7 Key Principles for Effective Practice’.

The best for every child

To help you make sure that every child has an equal chance of success think about whether:

  • all staff understand that high-quality early education is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and are skilled in delivering this
  • all staff are knowledgeable about child development and can notice when a child is at risk of falling behind and know how to support them to catch up and ‘narrow the gap’
  • your setting is inclusive and children’s needs are identified quickly, so children receive any extra help they need to progress well in their learning

High quality care

It is important that every child has consistent care and that the child’s experience is central to the thinking of every practitioner. 

Think about whether:

  • all practitioners enjoy spending time with young children 
  • they are responsive to them and understand that toddlers learning to be independent will sometimes get frustrated 
  • they have the skills and training to support this
  • they understand that transitions in the early years are big steps for small children - think about how transitions are supported in your setting

The curriculum - what we want children to learn

Your curriculum should be ambitious, a top-level plan of everything the setting wants children to learn and reflects careful sequencing to help children to build learning over time. 

Think about whether

  • you plan to help every child to develop their language and that all staff are skilled to do this
  • children use a rich range of vocabulary and language structures
  • children have frequent opportunities to build and apply their understanding to develop a secure base of knowledge and vocabulary
  • the curriculum includes rich opportunities for children to develop positive attitudes and interests in maths
  • plans are flexible and reflect children’s interests
  • children are given many opportunities and supported to gain depth and breadth in learning, rather than covering lots of things in a superficial way

An ambitious curriculum should:

  • be right for all the children in your setting
  • be about what you want them to learn and why
  • have a sequence and build towards a clear end-point
  • address gaps in children’s' knowledge and skills
  • be as broad as possible for as long as possible, so that children can do more and remember more
  • be about secure learning

Pedagogy - helping children to learn

In helping children to learn, think about how you make sure that every child is given the right help to make progress in their learning.

Think about whether:

  • there is a mix of different approaches to help children learn through play, by adults modelling, by observing each other, and through guided learning and direct teaching
  • your environment is carefully organised to enable high-quality play, providing time and space
  • staff are skilled to be able to focus support on a small number of children who will struggle

Assessment - checking what children have learnt

All practitioners need to be clear about what they want children to know and to be able to do.

Think about whether 

  • all practitioners are able to make assessments that are accurate and can highlight whether a child is at risk of delay or may have a special educational need and needs extra help

Remember, before assessing children, it’s a good idea to think about whether the assessments will be useful. Assessment should not take practitioners away from the children for long periods of time. Don’t do observations just for the sake of it. There is no use in recording the same thing often. You can use your professional knowledge to help children make progress without needing to record lots of next steps.

Think about:

  • how you can check that children’s knowledge and skills are secure before moving them on

You will need to record some things - do this for some of the children some of the time but not all of the children all of the time. Focus assessment where it really matters, for the ones who are really struggling.

Self-regulation and executive function

This is about the child’s ability to remember information, focus attention, regulate their behaviour and plan what to do next.

Language development is central to self-regulation because children use language to guide their actions and plans.

Think about:

  • strategies you can teach your children
  • how you can give them opportunities to use these strategies
  • how you can make sure that you set an appropriate level of challenge to develop children’s self-regulation and cognition
  • what professional development you need

Partnership with parents

Think about how you work in partnership with parents and whether:

  • you give parents clear information about their children’s progress and how you know that they understand this
  • you work together with parents to support them to read and chat with their children daily
  • you offer extra help to those who need it most and what the impact of this is

Contact information

Quality and Development Team

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