Learning, assessment and equality in Early Childhood Education (ECE) settings in England
European Early Childhood Education Research Journal
Since 2003 children in England have been formally assessed at the age of five after their first year in school, and their numerical scores reported to parents and analysed at school and national levels. The use of statutory assessment for this age group is unique in the United Kingdom, where other regions use less formal methods of assessment, and is also unusual internationally. This article examines the peculiarity of this assessment system, the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFS
... le), and discusses its impact on classes of young children. The focus is on the production of numerical data through the accumulation of 'teacher knowledge' of pupils, which is constructed as a neutral, objective process. Using data from two ethnographic case studies of classrooms of four-and five-year-old children in London, it is argued that there are tensions between teachers' construction of the data they produce as neutral knowledge, their ambivalence in relation to the data reported, and the national publication of the proportions of children attaining each element of the assessment. The alternative methods of assessing this age group in other parts of the United Kingdom are used to consider the implications of the production of numerical assessment data in early childhood education. In the education systems of the other regions of the United Kingdom and in Northern Ireland, there are no statutory assessments of children in this age group. In common with many other early childhood settings worldwide, school based early years settings in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland report children's progress to parents, but they are not required to provide numerical scores and this information is not passed on to local or national authorities. Thus the use of statutory assessment in England is an unusual case, and therefore a site of interest in terms of the production of numerical data in education. This paper begins with a discussion of early years assessment policy in the different regions of the UK, before I examine the peculiarity of the situation in England. To examine this issue in depth, I use data collected through ethnographic case studies of two Reception classrooms, undertaken during the period of the EYFS Profile between 2008-12 when the assessment was established in Reception classrooms. The data are used here to consider the role of numerical data in early years settings, and specifically the impact on pedagogy, teachers' views of the assessment, and the processes involved in the production of final attainment data. The aim is to relate the process of production of 'knowledge' about children, through assessment based on observation, to the numbers produced in relation to this knowledge. Early Years Policy in England The EYFS Profile in place between 2008 and 2012 (and almost identical to the Foundation Stage Profile in place 2003-2008) assessed children's progress in the six areas of learning of the EYFS: these are: Personal, social and emotional development (PSED) Communication, language and literacy (CLL) Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy (PSRN) 4 Knowledge and understanding of the world (KUW) Physical development (PD) Creative development (CD) (QCA, 2008) The Profile was made up of a total of 117 statements in relation to these areas, in thirteen scales spread unevenly across the six areas: there were three PSED scales (Dispositions and Attitudes; Social Development; and Emotional Development), four CLL scales (Language for Communicating and Thinking; Linking Sounds and Letters; Reading; and Writing), three PRSN scales (Numbers as Labels and for Counting; Calculating; and Shape, Space and Measures), and one scale each for KUW, CD and PD. Each scale was made up of nine points of increasing difficulty, though children did not need to achieve them in that order. In total, the Profile included 117 points, each of which teachers had to make a judgement on, either awarding the point or not. These judgements were based on observation of children in the classroom; the EYFS Profile Handbook explained: Observation of children participating in everyday activities is the most reliable way to build up an accurate picture of what children know, understand, feel, are interested in and can do. (QCA 2008) These observations were collected throughout the school year for each child, in the form of written notes, longer observations, photographs and samples of children's work, usually collated into a folder for each child. Although this was an on-going process and teachers were encouraged to assess children against the points each term, the final results were not submitted to the local authority until the summer term. At this point, it was a statutory requirement that teachers produce this data and deliver it to the local authority. These data were then collated at an England-wide level, and published in various forms by the Department for Education DfE 2010a; DfE 2012b; DfE, 2012d) . These published data relied on a measure called a 'good level of development'