Not everything is countable but early education outcomes are.

This week we spoke to a wide community of professionals concerned with evidence, impact, data, and evaluation at the Children and Young People Now conference in London.  Our session focused on early years, no surprise there.  Our opening assertion was that we can and must assertively quantify and demonstrate how early education makes a difference.  Because it enables children to succeed in their educational futures.  We can close gaps before children start school, but the greatest gift we can bestow children is to switch on their motivated personal learning journeys, and to help them embrace the opportunities that school offers, and be resilient to tackle its challenges.  Early years isn’t an annexe to education, it is the second stage, after children have started learning at home with their parents.  It is a vital and equal part of the continuum of learning before children start school, and a reliable indicator of their future needs and learning potentials throughout primary and secondary. 

What is school readiness?  We were asked.  And how can early years serve teachers by handing over to them children ‘ready, willing, and able’ to be at school?  It isn’t difficult to define, describe and evidence this, even though many believe it is.  Let us tell you, to be school ready is to be happy, confident, and engaged.  It is as simple as that.  Without these two foundational skills, there is an unholy battle to be had.  And we can measure this through the Leuven scales of Wellbeing and Involvement.  Observational judgements made through informed and specialist assessments by trained early educators, who can use the scales to convert qualitative values to quantitative ones.  Data that can target support and interventions and track progress – evidencing it along the way. 

What schoolteacher would not want to work with a child, or a class that was healthy and happy, or actively engaged in what was happening around them?  Two foundational skills that we can, and we do, deliver every day in the appropriately named Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). 

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But it relies upon us as a sector to grow our confidence.  It requires us and all of those around us to fully understand the data we collect and how and why.  That means we, as a sector, and those who rely upon us, need to open up to new respectful and impact and outcome focused conversations.  And that data we collect needs to be stealthy gathered through realistic, and authentic understanding of best practice in early education.  It should not be viewed through a ‘blurry lens’ or practice from later educational perspectives (I mean schools in case you missed that). 

The early years of learning are unique and different – that is its strength, but it does get in the way when others don’t always comprehend that.  They require practitioners to understand our youngest children’s development of thinking and reasoning.  This is massively different to how assessment and testing is done later on.  The assessment of which is an art, to track and evidence children’s development.  In short, to think in the same terms as the developing minds and brains of our youngest children.  And that is an art that can be quantified, tracked, evidenced, analysed, proved, and demonstrated – all without our youngest children noticing what we are up to.  And crucially executed during day-to-day early years practice, without the need for extensive paperwork, and certainly without clutching a tablet – all of which creates barriers between the practitioner and the child, taking away significant value from the potential of interaction and best early education practice.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

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