According to the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Statutory Framework, –
‘When a child is aged between two and three, practitioners must review their progress, and provide parents and/or carers with a short written summary of their child’s development in the prime areas. This progress check must identify the child’s strengths, and any areas where the child’s progress is less than expected. If there are significant emerging concerns, or an identified special educational need or disability, practitioners should develop a targeted plan to support the child’s future learning and development involving other professionals (for example, the provider’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) as appropriate.’
Like all well intentioned initiatives, the reasoning behind the early identification and intervention to support “developmental delay”, “special needs” or “disability” is laudable and makes sense however, in practice, I believe this is fraught with difficulty.
What is enshrined in legislation here is a “review of progress” and an implied assessment and potential diagnosis by early years practitioners of significant concerns, special needs or disability, which is to be shared with parents/carers. Children are to be assessed between the ages of two and three.
A measure of progress necessitates the comparison of at least 2 separate values, at the start and end of a period of time. In order to review progress then , a child must be assessed on 2 occasions sometime between his/her second and third birthday against the guidelines for the 3 prime areas of development – communication and language, physical and personal, social and emotional.
It is not specified when these 2 occasions should be. Given that there is no compulsion for a child to be in any early years programme, consistently, for any given amount of time, it cannot be guaranteed that any individual will be in attendance sufficient to provide valid progress data. For example, a child could start preschool sessions after his third birthday in which case no 2 year old assessment can be performed, or at 2 years 11 months, attending 1 session per week which would provide statistically insignificant evidence to assess any developmental progress. Or a child could be assessed at age 2 years 0 months and again at age 2 years 11 months, when “expected progress” would look very different to an assessment across a shorter time frame.
There are issues with the definition and interpretation of terms here – what is the developmental norm, progress and delay for a child aged between 2 and 3 years? What constitutes a valid assessment?
The non-statutory Development Matters Guidelines describes its purpose as “to help adults to understand and support each individual child’s development pathway.” and the first of the four main themes within the EYFS refers to the “Unique” child.
So if every child is unique and exhibits an individual development pathway, how are we to assess progress? Clearly this is not an exact science. Doesn’t the term “development guidelines” tell us that?
Another area of real concern is the practitioner’s qualification to make judgements. I and my staff are not trained in the diagnosis of disability or indeed special needs. We have an understanding of what to look for, how different characteristics associated with certain conditions might present themselves but we do not feel confident nor that it is right to label a child as having special needs, being developmentally delayed or disabled and certainly not at two years old. We would not commit such judgements to paper to be shared with parents.
Parents do not want to receive the news that their child’s progress is “less than expected” or that an assessment has identified “significant emerging concerns” regarding her development.
This is an area of extreme sensitivity, requiring professional expertise and guidance. Sharing the results of such an assessment is not a task, I would suggest, to be entrusted to a junior practitioner.
We are instructed that the assessment “should be provided in time to inform the Healthy Child Programme health and development review at age two whenever possible (when health visitors gather information on a child’s health and development, allowing them to identify any developmental delay and any particular support from which they think the child/family might benefit).
Taking account of information from the progress check (which reflects ongoing, regular observation of children’s development) should help ensure that health visitors can identify children’s needs accurately and fully at the health review.”
This presupposes that there is a seamless system in place between health and early years settings with a coordinated assessment regime and communication between both agencies. It also assumes that the child has been in attendance at an early years setting for sufficient time to accumulate “ongoing, regular observations” prior to health visitors making their assessment of a child’s development and that the Early Years assessment will be available and feed into this.
Our experience locally suggests that potentially, the health visitor assessment and the Early Years assessment will be completely separate, with the health visitor’s check coming first and no system in place for one to inform the other.
I understand why it is a great idea to pick up children who might need additional help early on but I fear that this new requirement on health and Early Years will be an additional bureaucracy that does not provide any additional benefit.
In practice, there are already systems and networks in place that highlight the need for additional support. I also know many parents who struggle for many years to access funding to provide this support.
I can’t help being slightly sceptical.