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We were told!

For a number of years, I have been perplexed by the amount of unnecessary paperwork that educators complete within their settings.

It’s important to remember what the EYFS states:

“Assessment should not entail prolonged breaks from interaction with children, nor require excessive paperwork. Paperwork should be limited to that which is absolutely necessary to promote children’s successful learning and development.” EYFS, 2014

On various social media platforms or when delivering training or speaking to clients, I hear comments such as:

“We were told to do this.”

 “Ofsted want to see this.”

 “The local authority advisor has given us a month to complete this.”

 “A consultant/trainer suggested this was the best way.”

As a consultant/trainer, I see myself as an advisor, which means that it is only advice.

In addition, in some settings the system is so complicated that educators are unable to fully vocalise why they do what they do.

Albert E

“Less paperwork = more time with the children!”

In my opinion, the most important aspects are identifying children’s starting points and robustly tracking their learning and development.

I’m not a fan of weekly themes or topics, which I have previously discussed. Neither do I promote short, medium or long-term planning.

“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, teaching will be different from before.” Loris Malaguzzi

So, what is this simplified approach?

I’ve cut down the ‘all about me’ concept to one page and called it:

“My personal page”.


Plan as you go, no need for pages of perfectly typed weekly planning in advance.

One sheet per week is sufficient, reflecting on:

  • Continuous provision
  • Three characteristics of effective teaching and learning
  • Child-inspired activities/experiences
  • Educator-inspired activities/experiences
  • Home/parent-inspired activities/experiences
  • Significant moments
  • Spontaneous activities/experiences
  • Brief evaluation

Short observations on how children are learning and developing (of course, if need be the educator would do longer observations, for instance, if concerned about a child’s well-being or development).

Educator robustly assessing children’s achievements in their learning and development and critically thinking what children’s next steps are so that every child is making progress, irrespective of their age, stage or ability.

Key person (childminder if home based) personal tracking.

This is my take on cohort tracking. I feel that the key person should do this and not a senior member of staff. After all, the key person should know their key children. In addition, the senior staff should monitor the effectiveness of the systems. My view is that this should be done three times a year.

“Improve teaching through rigorous monitoring” Ofsted, 2016

Moderation meetings:

To identify if the system does indeed work and that every child is making progress, I suggest moderation meetings, ideally after the key person has completed their tracking. Ensure staff come together to share their key children’s development and tracking, giving staff the opportunity to professionally critique each other and ask reflective questions. This will help to ascertain if every child’s development has been recorded honestly and effectively. Also, as a setting, how are they going to support children who are not progressing and how do they support the most able children?

Brief and quarterly reports should be shared with parents. Not losing the human touch, daily verbal feedback should still continue even if your setting uses an electronic system.

Of course, as with any approach, this only works in practice if educators have a sound understanding of child development and know their key children well.

Working with children is emotionally and physically draining, the less time spent on unnecessary paperwork the better!

If you would like to use any of the above concepts and terms, please feel free and acknowledge Laura Henry Consultancy as the source.

Webinar on this concept.

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Twitter: @IamLauraHenry

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  • Penny Webb

    Great blog Laura.

    Lots of things for colleagues to consider how relates to their setting, and to then how they could implement to enhance their provision.

    As you say.advice is great but it is only advice everyone must take ownership of their paperwork and practice – but the one thing that we can all apply is ‘less is more’s and this iscertainlytrue for paperwork

  • Phing Habadera

    Hi Laura,

    I totally agree with your point. Lots of educators are overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork needed to do. However, I was just wondering if this method would be sufficient for accreditation?? I strongly believe that the main focus should be on establishing a healthy relationship with children and parents. At our centre, we have a daily diary but patents seldom read it. They prefer to look at pictures as communicate with the educator about their child and their day at day care. What are your thoughts on that?

  • Alicia

    Dear Laura,
    Thank you for putting all these thoughts together. I am in the research world myself as well as being a practitioner. I still find Early Years practitioners who find if difficult to approach learning without using excessive documents simply because they think that is what will be expected. People still worry about what’s right and wrong.

  • Catherine Lyon

    Wish we had collaborated – both on the same ‘track’!

    In my experience, many settings are too scared to give up anything that has worked in the past and think ‘by doing MORE of the same thing’ will make it better.

    Through our software (so no paperwork and all done ‘on the go’- so always appropriate) we try get a balance between – understanding where each child is ‘at’ and what may be their next steps, know each children’s interests, home scenarios, learning styles & schemas, plan through where they gravitate to play by offering extended opportunities (resources), use evaluations (Well-being, CoEL, Involvement & SST as appropriate) on the child’s ‘strengths/not so great yet’, to improve personal practice; what/how do I (as the educator) need to do to help/facilitate.

    My biggest challenge are Local Authorities who dictate how evidence should be provided to justify funding! So time is monopolised in an office.

  • Kennedy Hunns

    Thank you Laura, as a consultant and previously an LA adviser I’m always amazed that we can say dump the unnecessary paperwork, but practitioners find it so hard to do. I used to make my groups stop paperwork altogether for a short time. Of course they panicked but eventually got a clearer vision of what they could not do without and what was not necessary.

  • Tom

    Hello lovely Laura.
    Excellent thoughts and exactly what people should be doing – less paper work – less “planning” and more relating and enabling and encouraging. The only issue is how we turn a growing amount of obvious, sensible, logical and appropriate ways into ACCEPTABLE ways. Of course advice is useful – but if it is being rejected by those with either economic or legal power…. We need to change the system….. Lotta Cotinua and feel free to join us… Tom xxx

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