Assessment in the Early Years: are we trading play for points? Student’s voice

By Alex Giubertoni, final year student on Early Years Education Foundation Degree 

Since the Froebelian era, play has been at the heart of young children’s learning and understanding in their earliest years. It is a way of taking the minds of young ones and investing them with knowledge and understanding about the world around them and the skills they need to live life. So, when I read the Bold Beginnings report from OFSTED I find myself at a crossroad of thought: are we entering a new era where play matters only to increase children’s social skills but directed teaching and assessment takes the rein of the majority of learning in the Early Years? If so, who is this benefitting? Certainly not the children, who it has been proven gain a more in depth understanding through child-initiated play (Robson, 2015). If we are to move into this newly recommended era of mostly adult lead teaching, we are going against all those pioneers who shaped our Early Years Foundation Stage as we know it. Theorists such as Margaret McMillian, Maria Montessori and more recently, Tina Bruce all endorse the importance of learning through play with no mention of standardised assessments (White, 2015).

In my saying this, assessment in the Early Years is of course, important as the EYFS describes (DfE, 2017). However, as Tickell (2011) found, assessment in the early years is misunderstood and misused by many practitioners and high-power figures. Assessment should be on-going and not be used to remove children from their play – a statement I feel the Bold Beginnings report seems to have missed. In defence, summative assessment plays an important part in some aspects of the Early Years, for example the Progress Check at age two. However, this kind of check is not done by removing a child from their learning, but more so through reviewing the formative assessment which has taken place during play.

In spite of the formative assessment highlighted in the EYFS, Maynard and Chicken discovered in their 2010 study, that many Early Years educators felt the pressure of results and figures and therefore adult led activities and teaching became more important that child-initiated learning and play.

In my professional opinion, assessment in the Early Years is suppressing the opportunities for play provided by educators, schools and settings. With more focus and recommendations than ever before on results from the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, it is no wonder the Early Years educators in the United Kingdom are trading play for points. As a recommendation, I would suggest that the government needs to immerse themselves in the Early Years curriculums such as Reggio Emilia and the Scandinavian Forest School approach in order to appreciate the need for child-innated play, and to see the impacts on children’s Early Years education even without summative assessments in place.

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