Last week I attended the 4Children Conference and it brought up for me an issue close to my heart that has long been debated: there is a consistent gap between the achievements of children from low-income families and that of those from more fortunate backgrounds. Research shows that it is the quality and amount of early years provision that has the most effect on progress (even more so than the important influence of time spent in primary school) right into the teenage years.   Significantly, the foundations of literacy are laid down before school. This also correlates to gaining high grades later in English and Maths. The importance of the education and care we provide in those fundamental developing years is, of course, intuitive to any of us involved with the delivery of the EYFS or indeed any sort of childcare, but the depth of this was really highlighted to me at last week’s conference on 23rd October (2014).

The RT Hon David Laws MP (Minister for Schools), Anne Longfield OBE, Sue Robb (CEO & National Head – 4 Children), Professor, Jacqueline Barnes, Ed Vainker (Reach Academy Feltham), Jackie Hardie, Kim Porter, Nancy Stewart, Di Chilvers (EY Consultants), Kevan Collins, (CEO Education Endowment Foundation), Patrick Flack (Lead on the EYPP at DfE) and Gill Jones (Deputy Director for EY – Ofsted) all spoke passionately and cohesively about the EYPP, the research underpinning the need and where the sector should concentrate their effort.

The simplicity and yet deep-rooted nature of the challenge is what struck me the most. For example, the quality of speech and language opportunities is highlighted as a key to why there is such a difference between the two groups. Children acquiring good speech and language skills before five, do better in literacy and maths later in school. Lower income families do not, in comparison to those on higher household incomes, provide such rich holistic language stimulus as is needed. Therefore, the focus for these children is to improve this provision within settings.

The focus on working with parents was also emphasised, appreciating, as we know, that most improvements can be made where parents are enabled to have significant input within the home environment. Another point was that PLAY should be the avenue of delivery and it was suggested that practitioners should maybe join other providers and as teams reflect and talk about children.

the desire to touch - 4 twitter

The focus on working with parents was also emphasised, appreciating, as we know, that most improvements can be made where parents are enabled to have significant input within the home environment. Another point was that PLAY should be the avenue of delivery and it was suggested that practitioners should maybe join other providers and as teams reflect and talk about children.

The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) means that childminders, schools, pre-schools and nurseries will receive up to £300 for each three and four-year-olds from a low-income family that attend. Providers can choose how to spend their EYPP but will need to justify how the actions taken have made a difference. Emphasis is placed on knowing children well.

Gill Jones outlined that Ofsted already looks at each individual child and the progress they make within the setting. However, the inspection will highlight children in receipt of EYPP and judge the impact the EYPP has/is making. This will need to be articulated to the inspector.

So what outcomes does this have for me…

As a practitioner of over 40 years (!), I am personally passionate to keep children within the place they know well rather than move them during their EYFS education onto another provider. It just doesn’t make sense to me. These children whose brains are growing rapidly are whisked away from where they are settled and doing well. Parents are pressurised to do so even if they don’t feel comfortable with it. I am sure nobody would purposefully do this in the middle of GCSE’s or A Levels and yet we do it in the EYFS.

So this conference has just backed this up for me – where EYFS provision impacts most on the teenage years – why are they being moved before they complete the Early Years Foundation Stage? It doesn’t make sense to me!

I am also passionate about helping practitioners and settings organise things to ‘get it right’ for every child, so each is enabled to learn and develop to their full potential. Hence, the development over many years, of our range of curriculum software. I agree that using the EYPP should be measured in how it improves outcomes. My experience, however, is that most settings don’t bother because it is seen as difficult and time-consuming. It is hard to get our brains into the idea of dedicating a little bit of time to save a LOT of time, and ultimately to improve our delivery of the EYFS.


Like a good setting – we at spark, reflect, implement and improve practice (the software) – so if you will indulge me, I will review what we do, elicit your help as I consider what we could do better! As I may not see the wood for the trees (being so close to it) – your comments and suggestions will be welcomed!

To help practitioners know their children well…

Currently, spark encourages practitioners to find out about the child’s life at home and the software provides solutions, support and suggestions for the scenario – whether that is a bereavement, redundancy or a lottery win and everything in between. Practitioners are encouraged to identify what each child is interested in, how children prefer to learn (VAK) and identify the child’s schemas.

Through a journey of observations in learning and development (linked to the Early Years Outcomes) the practitioner is acutely aware of where each child is ‘at’ and the system provides an instant choice of relevant next steps to choose from as appropriate. This ensures that the practitioner can make an informed choice in planning for that particular child. All areas of learning are covered, including the area of Communication and Language, providing a comprehensive journey. What the software doesn’t do is tell the practitioner what and how to deliver the outcome.   However, I will review the stages in relation to the three episodes spoken about by Nancy Stewart : 0-2 – need for quantity of language, 2-3 years for cognitive challenging opportunities and 3 years plus, to extend conversations.

I have made record keeping, quick and easy to enable the practitioner to spend lots of time with the children rather than on ‘scrapbook journals’. Our recently developed planning tools are also available (continuous provision, activities for those areas, and one for each specific key-group) are quick to produce and can be changed in real-time without lengthy time-out or meetings. Where families use spark@HOME (parents software) then practitioners have access to a range of comments from the family with regards to scenarios at home and achievements too.

The practitioner is encouraged to reflect on their ‘teaching strategies’ in reviewing the child’s acquisition of the Characteristics of Effective Learning and to make a note of the modifications they intend to make.

Managers have tools to review staff interaction with the software, appraise and discuss practice and achievements of key groups.   Across the setting, they are able to identify strengths and weaknesses and target the training budget accordingly. This would also be a good place to begin to generate discussion and reflection.

To improve home learning environments…

spark encourages families (and anyone involved with the child) to take a role in the children’s development. Reports generated give ‘hints and tips’ to families to extend the child’s learning through play and those involved are invited to comment. The Learning Journey Profile report communicates the next steps chosen by the key person and gives ideas to the parent in how these may be achieved.

House with fence

This links fluidly with our spark@home – the parent’s own software, which gives families back responsibility and ownership for their child’s ‘education’. It shows the same next steps as sparkPRO so each party can work together. spark@home is linked up with sparkPRO so pertinent information is shared. The parent holds the complete EYFS Learning Journal that comprises of photographs and dates of achievement from both parties. Parents are encouraged to relay information useful to the provider while ‘settling in’. Then there is the opportunity to use the ‘communication jotter,’ to relay what is going on at home; interests, outings, behaviour …. etc, and this information along with what the child has achieved with the next steps are communicated to sparkPRO. This enables parents to communicate in a different way and at a time that suits them, rather than busy drop off/collection times.

The setting can monitor the parent participation, this enables appropriate support to be given to encourage and engage. Some families find it addictive, as they check out Facebook they will also open spark. After the completion of each stage, the information can be downloaded and the format of the Learning Journal is like a ‘baby book’ hopefully to be cherished.

Currently, there isn’t a place to collate information following a home visit although at this point I am not sure what that might be.   In our settings we currently do not do these – I need to find out more about this from someone more knowledgeable.   Ed Vainker indicated in his school they visit the home every three weeks! Please share with me your experiences with these…

Finally, Imi, for those not yet started a setting, shows the next steps and also ideas in how to carry those out at home in play scenarios. Once joining a setting using sparkPRO then it is altered to become spark@home and the child begins with the information already entered by the family.

To demonstrate impact…

sparkPRO has a range of tools to record achievements at different stages and over time. Snapshots of progress can also be made and these compared to those taken during the process of change to monitor effectiveness. This allows judgements to be made on a possible a change of approach and also to prove success.

So … what may be your needs to support all children and particularly with regards to the requirements in making that difference with the EYPP funding? Get in touch and let me know!

Here is the government guidance