The most useful tool we time-pressed Childminders have at our disposal is the digital camera. Whether it’s on our smart phones, our tablets or just an everyday camera. But let’s get the legal stuff out of the way first.

Remember to register with ICO and although a standalone ‘Acceptable Use of Cameras and Mobile Devices’ policy isn’t absolutely essential, a robust safeguarding policy including mobile phones and cameras is. (We use PACEY‘s templates for members). Remember that recent controversy? They’ve just had their “good” grade reinstated. Phew.

The EYFS states that early years providers must ensure they take all reasonable steps to ensure children in their care are not exposed to risks and must be able to demonstrate how they are managing risks. An early years provider’s safeguarding policy and procedures must, therefore, cover use of mobile phones and cameras. Furthermore, the common inspection framework requires that professionals demonstrate an understanding of the risks of taking photographs of children in the setting (remember Vanessa George?) and so I suggest you also ensure that you make it abundantly clear in your safeguarding policy that you are aware of how photographs can be misused in a way that potentially puts children at risk. If you’ve done any specific training, here would be a good place to mention it.

It is also crucial that you have parental consent to take photographs but I would recommend you take this one step further by reviewing their consent on a regular basis and getting their express consent for individual photographs you might propose to share publicly, say, on a promotional leaflet. Don’t rely on their general blanket consent on this occasion as some images used for marketing, websites, blogs etc are obviously on the internet for long after a child has left your setting and parents may feel they are no longer appropriate.

I also personally recommend that your device is used solely for childcare – or in the very least that you have a designated password protected SD card, flash pen etc solely for gathering your evidence.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s explore tip #1 on how to drastically reduce our paperwork by using our digital cameras yaaay!

This looks cool right?

observation evidence pro forma

We took our inspiration from ‘learning stories’ taken from the Te Whāriki early childhood curriculum. We use it in other aspects of our practice too. Here, we’ve been observing Lucy (not her real name) to monitor how well she’s settling in and how best we can adapt the environment to make her transition that little bit smoother. We’ve observed the moment, captured the evidence, assessed the learning that is taking place and planned the next steps individual to this child. All on a tiny little post-it note. But note that the planning isn’t some convoluted sheet giving lots of activities for each area of learning and development? No. It’s more about replenishing & enhancing continuous provision and reorganising the environment. Remember, the environment is the third educator. Embracing this concept has the potential to do away with written forward planning entirely.  

And we could still do so much more with this. Is your focus on the Characteristics of Effective Learning? Then emphasise instead how Lucy showed a can-do attitude, how she engaged in a new experience and managed to concentrate despite distractions. Remember to say how you plan to follow on from there, mindful that we’re not only concerned with moving children on but how we allow time for children to practice skills they’ve already acquired, to do them in a better way, a quicker way, a different way.

Or perhaps your focus is on identifying whether Lucy has any repeated patterns of behaviour (schemas) that can help you to plan to meet her own individual needs?  Or perhaps your focus is on Lucy’s well-being and levels of involvement? Fine, it’s good to mix things up a bit. It demonstrates the breadth of your knowledge and understanding of child development.

[Don’t know much about schemas or Leuven’s scales of well-being and involvement? Don’t worry, more blogs coming up].

Now, you can create this piece of evidence in a number of ways. I’ve tried lots of methods and still muck about from time to time because I like experimenting with technology. In this example here I uploaded Lucy’s picture to my PC, opened microsoft powerpoint and inserted the image into a blank slide page. I then overlaid an image of a post-it note and created a text box over that image and typed in my observation notes and next steps. What you have to remember next though is to save this first piece of evidence as a powerpoint slide. Call it, perhaps, “observations don’t touch!” because you will constantly keep coming back to this slide to change the image and edit the text for every observation you do from hereon in. You don’t want to be making a brand new one from scratch every single time.

When you have finished your piece of evidence, THEN you save it as an image instead of a powerpoint slide. Once it’s an image you can share away only remember to delete it from your camera and your PC once it’s shared and you’ve done what you needed to do with it so far as evidence is concerned. If you want to share it for promotional purposes, or blogs, or for childcare and education publications then remember to get express parental consent first even though you will already have general parental consent. We upload ours to a secret Facebook group put together purely to store all of the records we will need to show an Ofsted Inspector. They demonstrate that we have been tracking children’s learning and development, and sharing those stages with parents or carers, speech & language, health visitor, key person at nursery school, without the need for compiling individual learning journals for each child. This way, everything is in one place so that we can get on with our work whilst the Inspector, well, inspects. Even if parents aren’t on Facebook themselves, this is still a really useful space to store tracking evidence for inspection purposes.

At this point, please note that images I use for public sharing very, very rarely show children’s faces, or real names, or real dates of birth (even with parental consent) and observation notes are always, always entirely fictional (just in case you were wondering).

Just one of these images per child, per week or fortnight or month (whatever is manageable to you) is ample as evidence of tracking the progress of a child. Once you get the hang of it it’s super easy and quick but best of all it’s free.

So now you’re thinking…but what about learning journals?

What about them?

You’ve done your bit. So long as you know where your little ones where last week developmentally, where they are today and the steps you plan next to meet their own individual needs then you’re doing everything expected of you. Granted, you might want to keep a little note in your diary but the odds are that you know them really, really well and can quite easily explain, just as you would to Mum or Dad at handover time.  If parents want to print off the photos you’ve sent them then they can, but most don’t. Or they may just print off one or two they especially like. Most like having their images at their fingertips on their phones, tablets or computers to share with family and friends as they wish. They’re hardly going to take an A4 scrapbook to the pub or restaurant with them are they?

Okay, so how do we prove what we do with the children to the Ofsted inspector then?

Well, one of the things we do is show them our secret Facebook group as mentioned earlier. Another thing we do is we compile a slideshow of our images and save them as a video. We even add a soundtrack to make it more fun to watch. We upload the video to our secret parent facebook group and get everybody’s feedback first. The video is then edited in accordance with their wishes and then consent is sought to share the final product with the inspector. It’s really no different to sitting down with the inspector and pulling out (or up if recorded digitally) each child’s developmental journal – they’re going to want to see evidence one way or another. Any child whose parent does not consent of course will have their photos removed from the video completely, even where they appear in group shots. All being well (and it always has been up to now) the video is presented on a loop on a screen throughout the inspection. You can even save the video as a web link and share it on your digital SEF so that the inspector can view it before visiting. Heck, you can add any link to any evidence you want to showcase in fact, such as training certificates, CPPD logs etc.

I’ve trialed dozens of apps and a whole range of online learning journals, some free some not. Although they didn’t work out for me (for one reason or another) you might like them but whatever you do, don’t expect them to drastically reduce your paperwork – they certainly didn’t for me. At the end of the day, I just keep coming back to microsoft powerpoint because, like, why reinvent the wheel?