Home   childcare   ‘Continuous Provision’. Two words that can end up causing a great deal of confusion!

‘Continuous Provision’. Two words that can end up causing a great deal of confusion!

It is my pleasure to have my colleague Alistair Bryce-Clegg as a guest blogger.

Alistair enjoyed a successful 10 year career as the Head teacher of a three-form entry Infant school and Early Years unit in Cheshire. Alongside his headship he established a consultancy career specialising in the education of children in the Early Years.

Demand for his consultancy became so great that Alistair left his headship and established ABC Does… (abcdoes.com).

Most of his time is spent supporting practitioners in their settings or delivering keynotes and training, specialising in all aspects of Early Years practice and management, for both the maintained and non-maintained sectors nationally and internationally.


Alistair is also an award-winning author and product designer, whose work has been published in a number of books and magazines; he also sits on the advisory board for Early Years Educator (EYE). Alongside support and training for a range of settings and schools, Alistair also works internationally and with Local Authorities across the UK.

Alistair states: 

“My definition of Continuous Provision is not ‘the provision that is continually out’. It is far more rich and complex than that. If you just put random resources out within your environment then you are relying on a great deal of luck when it comes to children’s engagement and attainment.

Continuous Provision should ‘continue the provision for learning in the absence of an adult’. What I mean by that is the areas of provision you create should be dictated by need, linked to assessment and broadly levelled so that there is challenge and support in all areas for all children.


I know from my experience of working with a variety of settings, that children often do not naturally challenge themselves in a play space, unless they find the play interesting and engaging. They will often return to ‘familiar’ play where they can rehearse familiar low-level skills that make them feel secure and confident.

Of course, secure and confident is exactly how we want our children to feel, we just need to ensure that there is planned scope for challenge and skill development in the spaces we create, so that we can build on the children’s knowledge and feelings of well-being and confidence and scaffold their learning to move it forward.


One essential element to really good Continuous Provision is a bit of ambiguity and open-ended experience. Children need to have the freedom to interpret the environment we create in their own way. If the resources that we set out and the areas we set up are very prescriptive and too adult led, then we are not giving children the opportunity to explore or apply their creativity. We are telling them where they need to be, what they need to do and how they need to do it. Little wonder many of them disengage!

We want children to be explorers in our provision, to use their own interest, curiosity and creativity to interpret, use and apply what they see around them in ways that are individual to their own needs and experiences.


The role of planning and the adult that delivers that planning is also crucial for Continuous Provision to be effective.

Adults should not be ‘stuck’ at one particular table or even one particular area. They need to constantly move through the space, looking for opportunities to support children’s learning, observe and assess them and deliver their planned objective. While they are on the move, the adults can also re-set any of the areas that they visit.

For Continuous Provision to be really effective, settings need a planning system that promotes high-level attainment by capitalising on children’s high-level engagement. Rather than pulling children out of the provision, the adult needs to go into it. This can be a huge shift in practice for some practitioners, but it is one that is well worth making.


Regardless of how good you are or how exciting your activity seems to you, there will be children who are far more motivated by doing other things. You need to seek out their area of motivation and capitalise on it.

One of the great joys about working in Early Years education is the opportunity to build children’s imagination, language and ability to think creatively. As a practitioner you will be able to promote all of these skills through the activities that you plan and the direct teaching opportunities that you create. But, we should also be ensuring that we are giving children lots of open-ended experiences in their Continuous Provision that allow them to discover, experiment and explore within the environment around them both inside and out.


Regular assessment of children’s life experience, language, talking and thinking skills should be used to help you to enhance your provision with open-ended resources that will give children the opportunity to play, explore and discover for themselves, as well as help your teaching to have an impact on promoting and enhancing essential skills.”

Alistair will be co-hosting (Continuous Provision) the popular Early Years Education online discussion  via Twitter @EYTalking  on Tuesday 30th September 2014, at 8:00 p.m. BST. Please feel free to join in using the hash tag #EYTalking.

Alistair’s book on Continuous Provision:

book alistar

Also, Continuous Provision – The Skills  due out February 2015!

Follow Alistair on Twitter:  

Follow the conversation on:

Twitter: @IamLauraHenry

Facebook: @LauraHenryConsultancy

Instagram: @LauraHenryConsultancy




  • Louise

    This is a great eye opener to all working with children!

  • Sarah

    Currently looking at overhauling out planning system. This is music to my ears. So inspiring!

  • Stuart Smith

    I am wondering what the differences are between continuous provision and Reggio Emilia preschool philosophy. I know that Reggio does not use learning outcomes like the EYFS does. I think that continuous provision works well without any learning outcomes. It’s just a matter of observing and listening to the children really well and challenging them in their learning. Any thoughts?

    • Stuart Smith

      Any thoughts on Reggio Emilia and Continuous Provision

    • Catherine Lyon

      Personally, my understanding would be the following:-

      Continuous provision in either context is provided for the potential learning it offers and what it may create.

      So I totally agree if planned well and has rich opportunities (not narrow ones) then it does work well too for the EYFS. However, activities, planned for specific reasons can be added to ‘the continuous provision’ around children’s current interests or scenarios outside the setting maybe (or to suit schemas and learning styles). These may be started or led by the adult and can be useful when planning for particular outcomes (whether those be for the child’s well-being, learning and development).
      Would love to hear Martin’s take on this 🙂

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