Early years practitioners believe they do more paperwork than they need to, Alliance survey reveals

A survey from the Early Years Alliance has revealed that early years practitioners believe they are producing more paperwork than they are required to do.

The survey 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).

The survey, which found 84% of respondents think that they produce more paperwork than required under the EYFS, has revealed a number of factors contributed to the administrative workload in the sector:

Almost three quarters of respondents (70%) said they completed some additional paperwork in case an Ofsted inspector asked for it
Well over half (59%) of respondents said that their internal processes required more paperwork than was necessary to meet best practice standards within their own setting, and 25% to meet the requirements of the setting’s owners or senior management
A third (35%) reported paperwork burdens linked to meeting local authority requirements
Almost a third (29%) wanted to protect themselves against parental complaints 
The survey painted an inconsistent picture in terms of the volume and content of paperwork being completed, varying at both a setting and local authority level.

Over two in five (42%) respondents said they had received conflicting information from different agencies or organisations about reporting incidents or concerns.

Local authority paperwork was cited by 20% of respondents as leading to duplication, with 37% of respondents saying they did not feel local authority paperwork requirements were reasonable.

While practitioners fully accept the importance of SEND paperwork, the complexity of forms and the time it takes to complete them were among the reasons why a third of respondents said that applying for SEND funding was burdensome, and a further quarter (27%) reported that SEND action plans added an unnecessary burden.

Of those respondents who had had more than one Ofsted inspection over half (52%) felt paperwork expectations were ‘not at all’ or ‘not really’ consistent across inspections.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance said: “We’re pleased that Ofsted and the Department for Education have agreed that our top priorities must be to address the ‘just in case’ approach we have heard so much about from the providers who took part in our research, 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. 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, have 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.

This month, Ofsted introduced its new education inspection framework. Wendy Ratcliff, an Ofsted inspector specialising in the early years, said: “We hear all sorts of myths about what paperwork inspectors might want to see, particularly around assessment. We shared the important findings of this survey during our recent inspector training. Inspectors and providers involved in EIF pilot inspections said they welcome the move away from looking at assessment data. 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. 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.”

DfE in collaboration with the Local Government Association plan further work to engage local authorities with the aim of understanding what paperwork requirements are placed on providers – and where there might opportunities to streamline these.

DfE and Ofsted are committed to working together to find ways to make guidance clearer to the sector and are considering a number of options.


Notes to editors

In 2018, the Early Years Alliance carried out a major piece of research into mental health and wellbeing in the early years sector. One of the key findings in its Minds Matter survey was that 78% of practitioners rated paperwork and administration as being regular sources of stress, but more research was needed to understand exactly what elements of paperwork and admin respondents were referring to.

In partnership with Ofsted and the Department for Education, the Early Years Alliance was asked to carry out further research to understand the main sources of burden.

Between 29 March and 10 May 2019 the Early Years Alliance ran an in-depth online survey aimed at early years practitioners in England. The survey contained 23 multiple choice and open-ended questions. 1,261 responses were received from a range of different types of early years settings including sessional and full daycare nurseries (56%), childminders (34%) and reception classes, children’s centres and maintained nursery schools making up the remaining 10%.

About the Alliance

  • The Early Years Alliance is the largest and most representative early years membership organisation in England. A registered educational charity, it also provides high-quality affordable childcare and education to support children and families in areas of deprivation throughout the country.
  • The Alliance represents 14,000 members and supports them to deliver care and learning to more than 800,000 families every year. We deliver family learning projects, offer information and advice, produce specialist publications, run acclaimed training programmes and campaign to influence early years policy and practice.
  • The Alliance website is www.eyalliance.org.uk