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Developing High Quality Observation, Assessment and Planning in the Early Years

In Bookshelf Early Years Practice


Offering a fresh approach, this practical toolkit offers a complete guide to observation, planning and assessment in the early years. It clearly explains the principles of good practice in this area and provides training tools to help practitioners develop their knowledge and skills and embed these principles into their setting. The focus throughout is on helping practitioners to create their own systems for observation, planning and assessment that are appropriate for the children they work with.


All the material in the book has been fully tried, tested and proven to work and the methods described can be tailored to meet the needs of individual practitioners. Featuring a wide range of case studies to illustrate how the principles work in practice, the book includes:


Making effective observations and assessments

Recognising the characteristics of effective learning

Ways to engage parents in their children’s learning

How to identify next steps and learning priorities

Dealing with barriers and maintaining quality over time


I found this book a fascinating read. It has an extremely accessible style which details and documents practice examples that would be recognisable to any early years setting. The book describes a project piloted in one local authority focusing on 'Observation, Assessment and Planning' (OAP). The point is made early on in the book that high quality observations are crucial to the effectiveness of any future assessments and planning.

The beginning of the book details how the project was set up and how settings were asked to identify a member of staff to be 'OAP' champion. There then follows a series of explanations of the training that was delivered to staff. The PowerPoint slides used during the training are available to download, the links are detailed in the book. The authors describe their aim as being to "hope a setting manager or lead practitioner could pick up this publication and follow training sessions". Having read the book I would say that they have achieved this extremely well.

The authors describe high quality observations very clearly. They say that they should: be factual, be dated, be named, be contextualised and should include the actual language used by children, not the adult interpretation of it. The authors explain how crucial this is and urge managers and lead practitioners to use the training to support and encourage staff to look at their observations and check that they are factual and useful. They provide excellent staff meeting ideas and materials that can be used to help staff do this. They explain the links between observations and assessments and describe how staff should make assessments "reflecting on factual observations and then analysing, interpreting and making judgements about significant interests, strengths and capabilities". A lengthy discussion about the merits of using the Development Matters statements follows with the authors impressing on the reader that "When analysing a single observation it is more useful to write a statement of assessment that is relevant to that child rather than copying a statement from a book or list such as Development Matters e.g. 'Chloe is now able to use scissors to cut round a square shaped picture in a catalogue' rather than 'Uses one handed tools and equipment'. There are plenty of examples of observations to help staff practice their assessment skills - all of which are useful and very accessible.

The question of how to engage and involve parents in their child's observations and assessments is discussed later in the book.The authors illustrate to the reader the importance of creating meaningful next steps from a basis of shared understanding of how to help children progress. The authors suggest an audit of settings existing partnership strategies and encourage an objective analysis of the effectiveness of their current practice. 

With firm and effective partnerships in place the authors turn their attention to the early years environment in which the children are 'working'. They explain that the medium term planning is reflected through the continuous provision and the short term planning is in direct response to the child's interests and the next steps planned for them. They also discuss how sometimes planning is recorded retrospectively, when it reflects spontaneous changes made by staff or children to a pre-planned activity.

I found the book interesting and I could see how it could be used as the basis for a series of staff training sessions when reviewing a settings observation, assessment and planning policy. I would certainly use it in my setting - the theories and politics are explained clearly and succinctly and the practical examples and downloadable resources make it a complete package.

Edited by Rebecca

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