Alistair first gave us the opportunity to write about OP&L in February 2021 and for more detailed information, please refer to our previous blog posts on abcdoes.com.
OP&L is an assessment tool, developed by us at Barnet Early Years Alliance (BEYA). We wanted to give our practitioners back time we felt was wasted collecting unnecessary evidence. Who is this evidence for? We know that it is through our interactions that we get to know our children best. We believe that if we are behind an iPad capturing the moment, we cannot be part of the moment. We wanted to share and be a part of our children’s fascinations, their curiosities, the awe and wonder. It also coincided with the key objectives of the EYFS reforms to improve outcomes for children and reduce practitioner workload and not to rely on unnecessary evidence and paperwork.
OP&L works on the basis of having very simple, six-monthly child developmental milestones, which we use to monitor children’s development. However, this is just a very small part of the assessment. We know that not all children will have ‘typical’ development. OP&L allows us to tell and celebrate each child’s story and focus on the support they need from us. What we love about OP&L is that the focus is on the child. We are able to discuss each child as an individual, their strengths, interest and fascinations. We are able to celebrate what children can do and think about what would motivate and inspire them.
When a child reaches a ‘spotlight’ month, we have the opportunity to sit and reflect on their development. As children reach their spotlights at different points in the year ‘spotlights’ are spread out, making it fairer for the child as they are being assessed against the age-related milestones that they have reached – no termly assessments of all children at the same time.
We have had such an overwhelming and positive response to OP&L so far, it really seems to have struck a chord with practitioners, all the way from Bristol to Dubai!
I have just given the EYFS team their first training session on OP&L. The team gave amazing feedback and were all really excited about it. One teacher even said, “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this for 19 years!’ Melissa, Dubai
I am a childminder in Bristol and we were offered OP&L training in the autumn term. I was on board with the ethos behind it right away, particularly how assessment happens every six months measured from the child’s birth month, which I feel is a fair and accurate system. I have now been using it since October. I like how efficient it is to complete when most of my assessment comes in the form of ongoing pedagogical documentation and reflection.’ Millie, Bristol
After sharing OP&L last year, we ran lots of information sessions and were often asked the same questions, which we have addressed below.
Why don’t you assess Expressive Arts and Design and Understanding the World?
The reason for this is that we want to assess children as minimally as we can. We really value those areas and plan to ensure that children have rich opportunities to learn and explore. However, rather than assess the children in these areas, we assess ourselves. We assess our environment, our curriculum, our teaching. If these are the best that they can be, we know that this will support children to make progress.
How do they line up with the Early Learning Goals at the end of reception?
The short answer is they don’t. However, what they will do is tell the other side of the story, particularly for example summer born children. There may be children who are not yet achieving their Early Learning Goals, yet are meeting milestones that are developmentally appropriate for their age, which will be reassuring for parents to hear.
How does it work for your SEND children?
OP&L celebrates every child and their learning journey. We believe it is important to positively discuss differences in learning, having open and transparent conversations with parents. OP&L enables us to quickly identify children who may need extra support. We work with our SENCo to create Individual Learning Plans, which run alongside our spotlights. The spotlights give us the opportunity to tell the child’s story, celebrate their interests and their unique journey.
What do you report to senior leaders and governors?
At the end of the year, we look at how many children were meeting milestones when they joined us compared with when they leave. We present case studies, so governors and senior leaders understand children, not just numbers. This has been really positive.
Ali’s OP&L journey
Ali joined us in our two year old provision when he was 27 months. Soon after settling in we completed a ‘Starting Point’ assessment, looking at the milestones he had most recently passed (24 months). We wrote a short summary about how Ali had settled in and the interests and learning dispositions we were beginning to see. We met with mum and chatted about how Ali had settled in, sharing a video of Ali playing at nursery.
When Ali reached 30 months we completed a ‘Spotlight.’ This was also his 2 year check. Through spending time with Ali, observing his ideas, intents and feelings, we knew that he loved to play with vehicles, lining them up, watching them closely and that he loved to move to music. We also wrote a short summary of Ali’s development in the prime areas of learning. We spent time with Ali, we observed to understand him and the insight we gained enabled us to discuss, reflect and plan our environment to support and shape his future learning.
Observing Ali and spending time with him had highlighted a possible speech and language delay. We met with mum to share his spotlight and celebrate all the wonderful things Ali was enjoying at nursery. It was also important that we discussed that Ali was not yet meeting his milestones and how we could work in partnership to best support him. We reassured mum that all children are on different pathways and have learning differences. Through observing children to understand them, we are able to identify early, areas where children may need support. We signposted mum to a speech and language drop-in session, where he was referred for further sessions. We worked in partnership with Ali’s parents and followed the advice given from the Speech and Language therapist that was working with Ali.
When Ali first joined us, he did not show interest in the other children. We noticed this and through working with him, playing alongside him, modelling play with other children, Ali began to build relationships with other children and had a firm group of friends by the time he left us, which was a joy to behold.
During his time with us, Ali’s interest in vehicles, numbers and letters never wavered, whereas other interests came and went, such as his love of Paw Patrol and dressing up as a Policeman. These interests gave him confidence and he used these interests to develop relationships and initiate play. We were able to provide new experiences and opportunities that valued Ali’s interests, enabling him to practice and develop skills to move his learning forward. When we reviewed Ali’s ‘Spotlights’ we reflected on his progress so far. Did the learning opportunities and experiences planned take place? Did they have a positive impact and if not, why? This again, gave us the chance to tell Ali’s story.
Ali’s final spotlight with us was at 54 months. This last Spotlight was also his transition report, which was passed on to his new reception class. This again saved us paperwork and the need to complete a transition report for every child in the summer term.
Ali did leave us meeting all his milestones and we were incredibly proud of this, however, it is really important to remember that throughout his time at nursery, he continued to make fantastic progress, which was to be celebrated. Instead of planning next steps to tick a statement off a list, we were able to plan learning that was meaningful and memorable for Ali.
“We were very happy and grateful to each and every one of you who helped Ali to progress well. As you all know when he joined he had very few words, not very engaging and found it very difficult initially. This was picked up very quickly and reported back to me and you put in place a strategy to support him. Rachel (Ali’s key person) and all of you followed those strategies which benefitted him and I could see positive changes in him.
One thing that I must say as parents, we felt whenever we had any suggestions/concerns, you all listened to us and supported us. Regular meetings kept us updated about his progress and also to put new strategies based on the need. When he left Hampden Way nursery he was a totally different child, who could interact well with adults and children.
I have also seen how much effort was put in to enable a smooth transition to school. You were very keen to contact school and give them all information regarding Ali so that school teachers can use certain strategies that worked well at nursery. They provided a detailed written document.
Ali settled well in reception. Suggestions from nursery, written in his report, we discussed with his class teacher. The school used these strategies to settle him. He is enjoying school, likes playing with other children. So far he has been doing well in his learning as well. He continues to play countdown (which his class teacher also knows) and now has a new found love for scrabble!!” Reena (Ali’s mum)
Following the success of OP&L, we worked with Learning Journals to create an online version. It was fantastic to work together, to see our principles come together in a professional online system! It has reduced paperwork even further with everything in one place. Learning Journals also allows you to upload observations, photos and videos. It collates all the information for us, so we have an at a glance overview of children.
Free information session
We will be hosting a free information session, including a demonstration of using OP&L online, on Wednesday 20 April, 4pm. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for the link and further information. Please feel free to get in touch, we are always open to ideas and suggestions. To see more of what we get up to in our BEYA nurseries, you can find us on Instagram @hampden_way_nursery, @stmargaretsnurserybarnet, @brookhillnursery