Assessing children's learning to make teaching more effective

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A row of brightly coloured pencils

Staff at Sunshines Pre-School nursery carefully assess all aspects of children's learning to ensure they progress well in all areas.

Number of pupils: 26
Age range: 2-4
Date of Inspection:  October 2015

Information about the setting

Sunshines Pre-School meets in a room in Llanfoist Fawr Primary School on the outskirts of Abergavenny.  Children attending the setting come from Llanfoist village and the immediate surroundings.  Nearly all of the children have English as their home language.  

The setting meets during school term times for five mornings and three afternoons each week.  There are currently 25 children attending the morning sessions, all of whom are funded by the local authority to receive early years’ education.  The afternoon sessions cater for children who are not yet three years old.

The setting is run by five members of staff, with a minimum of four staff being present at any one time.  An additional member of staff is employed to assist children with additional learning needs.  All staff are suitably qualified and experienced in working with young children.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The inspection report notes that: “Assessment procedures are excellent”.  Giving practitioners an excellent “knowledge of every child’s ability and what they have achieved”.  This enables practitioners to provide innovative and stimulating learning experiences that are highly effective in motivating the children and maximising their achievements.  

Description of nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

All practitioners are involved in assessing children regularly and comprehensively.  Key workers take responsibility for different groups of children, and transfer their observations into children’s individual records each week.  Children’s records are of a high quality, focusing on what children can do and what they need to do next to move on.  These enable practitioners to track children’s progress very well and plan activities that meet children’s needs highly effectively.  For example, key workers know which children can count to five, or to ten, and which are already recognising numbers.  This enables them to provide activities at different levels of difficulty to make sure that all children are moving forward, such as a fishing game with opportunities for children to count to five or to ten, and challenging more able children to place numbered fish in the correct order. 

All practitioners are involved in planning the learning activities every week.  They review the children’s folders and Foundation Phase profiles at every planning meeting.  This ensures that all practitioners are fully aware of each individual child’s progress and achievement.  As a result, they are able to plan appropriate and purposeful activities, and support the children very effectively during focused tasks.  For example, practitioners working on a Postman Pat matching game focus purposefully on supporting children at their individual level, encouraging a few to practise matching numbers one to three, while more able children were encouraged to sequence higher numbers, up to fifteen.  Practitioners group children according to ability for each focused task.  When they revisit the task in another form, the children are grouped again, matching the progress they have made.

In addition to information from assessments, practitioners consider children’s views and interests regularly.  Staff record children’s ideas and suggestions in a useful “ideas” book.  They use these to plan imaginative learning experiences across all areas of learning.  This approach means that the activities are closely linked to the children’s needs and interests and, as a result, children are fully engaged and eager to learn.  For example, during one snack time, children confused the words ‘melon’ and ‘lemon’.  There was some discussion about lemons being sour and a child said that limes were sour too.  Another child said that they had never tasted limes.  Practitioners noted the children’s comments in their ‘ideas book’ and decided to offer a lemon and lime tasting session for the children the following day.  This helped children to learn new words, as practitioners talked to them about the bitter and sour tastes, as well as new experiences as they tasted the different fruit.  The children had fun looking at photographs of their facial expressions as they tried the lemons and limes.  This gave them a chance to talk about their feelings and the effect that the strong taste had on them.  Practitioners shared the photographs with parents using social media, so that they could see what their children were learning, and join in the fun.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

The comprehensive individual profiles put together for all the children mean that practitioners know the children well and can provide appropriate support when they lead focus activities or support in the wider learning environment.  For example, a child wanted to draw a rainbow but did not know the correct order of the colours.  Because the practitioner knew from previous observations that he could already recognise all of the colours, she supported him appropriately by naming the colours in order, while he selected the crayons.  The practitioner knew that another child needed more support, directing him effectively to the correct pencil as well as giving verbal clues.

By implementing the key worker system and this method of recording children’s journey and learning experiences, practitioners ensure that they assess and monitor the children consistently and identify their individual needs appropriately.  This approach has improved practitioners’ knowledge of the children and enabled them to plan tasks involving different levels of challenge effectively.  The thorough tracking and assessment enables practitioners to group children appropriately to ensure that focus tasks are relevant to their individual needs.  As a result, children make good progress and their individual learning needs are met effectively. 

How have you shared your good practice?

The setting has shared its good practice by highlighting it on social media, and inviting practitioners from the local cluster of settings to visit the playgroup.