How can we get the EYFS progress check at age two right, and help children to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Research shows that the period from birth to two-years old is the fastest for brain development. It is a sensitive phase of child development. That’s why so many of us in the early years are worrying about some of the two-year olds we are working with. They have lived their whole lives through the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent evidence from Ofsted highlights developmental delays attributed to the pandemic. In particular, this raises concerns about children’s development in the prime areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS): Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional Development, and Physical Development.  However, young children can be resilient. With the right support, most will bounce back from ups and downs in their early development.

Following the 2021 EYFS reforms, the progress check at age two remains statutory. That underlines the importance of early years provision for two-year olds. The check enables us to celebrate young children’s development and learning with their parents [1]. It also enables us to highlight where children might need more support.  As we emerge from the pandemic, we know that the progress check at age two is more important now than ever; yet there has been little practice development in this area. If we complete it as a ticklist exercise, we generate unnecessary paperwork which does nothing to support the child or their family. It becomes just another chore.

Getting the check right matters. It can help us to support every child’s learning and development. It can help young children to bounce back from the missed opportunities and the stress associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s why we have been delighted to work with practitioners and experts to help the Department for Education develop new, non-statutory guidance.

Partnership with parents

Practitioners in the early years settings are dedicated. Key people and childminders want the best for every child and family.

Our recent research into parental views about the progress check at age two tells us that the majority of parents value this aspect of our work. However, the research also raises some points for reflection.  Some parents said that they were not:

  • asked for their views (33%) or given a copy of the check (17%)
  • given clear ideas about how to help their child’s learning at home, after the check was completed (38%)
  • sure how completing the check made a difference to their childminder or setting’s support for their child’s continuing progress (69%)

The new guidance for the progress check at age two highlights the importance of working respectfully with parents:

While practitioners and other professionals can support children’s development and wellbeing individually, they can achieve so much more by working together’.

When we undertake the check, we need to:

  • speak with the parents of each child
  • provide them with information about the check
  • seek their views on their child’s development

Parents are experts on their own children.  We need to listen actively to their views. The care we take when speaking with parents builds understanding and trust. This can help us to achieve the best outcomes for every child.

Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic

Acting in the best interests of children has always been key to effective early years practice. It’s especially important now, to support children’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, there were serious problems with inequality in the EYFS.  For many years, some groups of children haven’t been reaching their potential. This includes disadvantaged children and children from some ethnic minority background. Research tells us that very few of these children go on to make the accelerated progress they need to recover this learning after the early years. Typically, they are further out paced by their more advantaged peers.

Research also tells us that high-quality early years provision is especially positive for disadvantaged children. As early years practitioners, we already know how to help children who may have missed out on important opportunities for their earlier development. We now face the challenge of offering that help to more children.

The Department for Education’s recently-announced early years education recovery programme can support us with completing the progress check. It offers a range of funded opportunities for professional development, including:

  • improving the capacity of the early years workforce to support children with special educational needs
  • training practitioners to support parents with home learning, which is one of the biggest drivers of early outcomes and future attainment
  • wider support for the workforce to strengthen practice

The new guidance for the progress check is concise and practical: it can help us to reflect on how we complete the check and make best use of the information. Childminders and early years settings have been stalwart in supporting children and families through the pandemic. We can use the EYFS progress check at age two to guide our work with every child and strengthen our partnership with parents.

This blog post was written by Dr Julian Grenier and Megan Pacey, Headteacher and Associate respectively at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre.

[1] We use the word ‘parent’ in this blog to refer to parents, carers and guardians.