Government pledges action to curb early years paperwork

By Dan Parton

| 10 September 2019

The government and Ofsted are looking to reduce paperwork for early years practitioners as a survey reveals many feel overburdened by excessive administration.

More than four in five childcare practitioners said they produced more paperwork than necessary. Image: Morguefile

The survey, by the Early Years Alliance, found that 84 per cent of respondents think that they produce more paperwork than required under the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

It follows the launch earlier this year of the early years workload group, led by the alliance in partnership with Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE), which aims to address the issue.

Ofsted introduced its new inspection framework this month, which moves the focus away from paperwork to children's experiences.

A variety of factors contributed to paperwork production, the survey found. For instance, 70 per cent of childcare practitioners said they completed some additional paperwork in case an Ofsted inspector asked for it, 59 per cent said that their internal processes required more paperwork than was necessary to meet best practice standards within their own setting and 25 per cent did extra to meet the requirements of the setting's owners or senior management. In addition, 29 per cent wanted to protect themselves against parental complaints.

Meanwhile, 35 per cent reported paperwork burdens linked to meeting local authority requirements. Local authority paperwork was cited by 20 per cent as leading to duplication, with 37 per cent saying they did not feel local authority paperwork requirements were reasonable.

However, the survey painted an inconsistent picture in terms of the volume and content of paperwork being completed, varying at setting and local authority level. For instance, 42 per cent said they had received conflicting information from different agencies or organisations about reporting incidents or concerns.

While paperwork associated with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) was acknowledged as important, forms were criticised for their complexity and the time it takes to complete them. A third of respondents said that applying for SEND funding was burdensome, and a further 27 per cent said SEND action plans added an unnecessary burden.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, welcomed Ofsted and the DfE's agreement that priorities must be to address the "just in case" approach providers have, as well as inconsistency, duplication and complexity at local authority level.

"No paperwork should be so burdensome that it causes stress or directs time and attention away from the learning experience of the child," he said. "This is why we are working to develop practical solutions so that providers can feel more confident during Ofsted inspections and when working with local authorities."

A workload advisory group, with representatives from all parts of the sector, has reviewed findings from the survey and helped to agree priorities. There are also plans by DfE and Ofsted to expand the remit of this group to become a forum for discussing wider early years workforce issues.

Wendy Ratcliff, an Ofsted inspector specialising in the early years, said that "myths" around paperwork inspectors may want to see need to be addressed.

"The early years inspection handbook makes clear that we'll spend most of the inspection observing and discussing children's experiences and learning, and not looking at unnecessary paperwork," she said. "We continue to work hard to bust myths about inspection and paperwork. We'll keep these survey findings under review as we introduce the new framework."

The department, in collaboration with the Local Government Association, plans further work to engage local authorities with the aim of understanding what paperwork requirements are placed on providers and where there might be opportunities for streamlining.

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