Valuing children’s perspectives beyond the voice

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

A focus group study of whether practitioners will increase their knowledge and understanding of capturing children’s perspectives through a variety of CLPL sessions.

Inclusive practice

Introduction

This project looked at practitioners’ current knowledge and understanding of capturing the perspectives of children with ASN, how we can increase this knowledge and understanding and what changes this may make to their current practice.

It takes into account Shier, H., (2001) ‘Pathways to participation: openings, opportunities and obligations’. The Mosaic approach, Malaguzzi, L.  (2022) Reggio Emilia Approach, 100 languages Available at: Reggio Children – 100 languages Accessed (14.12.22), Louis, S. (2022) ‘Observing young children’ London: Froebel Trust and  the work carried out by Jayne White around Dialogic pedagogy.

The enquiry matters because children’s perspectives are not being captured in regard to our GIRFEC form 4’s (child’s action plan). This is a personalised child plan and can be found in the suit of GIRFEC templates. I do not feel children are represented or influence this planning process.

My purpose in undertaking this work was to learn if a focus group of practitioners will be upskilled through my CLPL and determine if this would then develop changes in their practice that could be shared throughout the authority.

Context

When visiting settings, it became apparent that before words children’s perspectives were not being captured in relation to their GIRFEC Form 4’s. When working closely with one setting, discussions with the head of centre provoked further enquiry into capturing these perspectives. From further investigation we found that the Form 4’s were currently kept within a file in the office and that the targets were created by the team around the child, all adult led. These targets were then evidenced through the reflections of the keyworker and senior management team on the Form 4.

For the last year the setting has been working on child/adult interactions and their environment. They currently provide a very good level of care, play and learning and have a very good staff team and setting. Three of their practitioners were attending the Froebel course and were keen to implement Froebel principles into practice.

I currently work across my local authority as an early intervention pedagogue, part of my remit is to assist settings with developing their practice when supporting children with ASN, GIRFEC, UNCRC and inclusive approaches. I am passionate about inclusion and children’s rights.

I chose to create a focus group of practitioners which enabled me to conduct a small test of change using the CLPL materials I have developed. I considered adult learning styles and decided to provide 3 sessions over a 5 week period. These sessions comprised of a literature review, then Powerpoint presentation, followed by a professional discussion. I wanted to determine if this CLPL will support an increase in practitioners’ knowledge and understanding of child perspectives and their confidence in capturing these within a child’s plan.

Questionnaires were used to capture the participants knowledge of child perspectives and confidence in capturing child perspectives before and after the focus group. It also captured if the focus group work resulted in a change in the participants practice and what this might be.

Ethics

Written consent was obtained from all participants. I outlined what the projected involved at the beginning and continued to ask if they would like to be part of the group. I discussed the project with the head of centre and gained written consent from her before beginning. Throughout the project I consulted with the senior management team around what their thoughts were and how they thought the participants were doing.

Participants were hesitant at first about being recorded but were reassured by myself that the recording would be deleted after the project conclusions had been written up and shared with them. They were happy to let me share my findings and edit any responses before publication. Participants’ answers to the questionnaires have always been kept confidential. I think the fact that I had already formed relationships with the practitioners prior to the project really supported depth of discussions and trust.

“It was really good to have a reminder of all the different ways we can observe children and how we can tailor this to each child's individual needs. Also, the idea of observing children's learning as a video was really interesting and something I think would be really beneficial in our setting” (Participants feedback)

Findings

I realised that the focus group related lots of what they were learning on child’s perspectives back to knowledge they had already acquired. They linked and deepened their knowledge and understanding they had gained through using specific tools to support them in observing children’s behaviours, body language and communication.

I think having more of the documentation showing all the different ways you could do it either if that was the STAR analysis, the enhanced what matters to me, that’s had a massive impact on our journey for our ASN, having that as part of your presentation would be beneficial for others.” (Participants feedback)

This made me think about the principles behind these tools and could I incorporate these into the CLPL we are delivering?

The group reflected on their current practice with GIRFEC Form 4’s and their planning process. It made me wonder if we actually set targets according to what children are telling us? Do we take observations over time to create a picture of what that child would like to do next in their learning e.g. a child continues to observe and allow another child into their play space. Are our targets created with this in mind extending their skills to support them in interacting with that child or do we just choose a social target due to our and other professionals understanding of child development?

“We have started discussions about changing paperwork to include more support for ASN” (Participants feedback)

 The group reflected on their observation styles and what kind of techniques might be more beneficial when capturing perspectives of before words children. They also acknowledged that different ways of observing and recording observations would be beneficial for all children in their setting.

“I really like the idea of incorporating videos into our observations, I think that’s a really good idea for a lot of our nonverbal children. Especially there is one child in my group that I can think of that when we are taking observations we are kinda guessing what it is he is actually saying or doing. Whereas a video would be nice to put in and we would know for sure. I think it would be nice for parents to see as well” (Participants feedback)

The group also discussed the power of reflecting on observations together as a team and the importance of having other perspectives of what they thought the child was trying to tell us. This made me wonder if we come together as a team around the child enough to reflect on observations. This would allow us to reflect on observational videos, especially with our partner agencies. I also considered if we observe children when we want to or when the child is trying to tell us something? Especially our before words children who may not seek us out to tell us what their thoughts are.

All practitioners felt they increased their knowledge of what child perspectives are and their confidence in capturing these. At the beginning the group used the term ‘child’s voice’ to describe child perspective. They had a good understanding that ‘voice’ could be captured in many ways through the 100 languages of children. Potentially this is a change in terminology for them. I feel this change in language needs to be disseminated more widely.

Please see Power point for more detailed findings.

Conclusion

The overall lesson of my research was: always do a trial. I shaped and tweaked my methods and inputs from testing it out with one person beforehand. I love that you can give input around what you think might be a specific subject e.g. Form 4’s and the thinking then grows and changes what happens in all aspects of capturing children’s perspectives.

After feedback from the focus group and further discussions with the senior leadership team in the setting, I have been asked to deliver CLPL sessions to the whole staff team at the next Inservice day. I will add in further reading and edit session from feedback before delivery.

I will then add this training to our on-request CLPL that can be delivered to any settings within the authority. Findings have also been taken to a working group focusing on planning for individual children’s needs. Where it will influence further discussions and shape additional CLPL for the authority.

Dissemination/Impact Report

To share my findings I created a PowerPoint and invited all the practitioners that were involved along to a discussion group. We looked through the findings and reflected on our learning together. From these discussions we decided it would be a good idea to share this with the rest of the team at the next in-service day.

I have also shared this with a working group that is focusing on planning for children with additional support needs and we will encompass some of the focus group work into a CLPL opportunity that will be available to the whole authority.

Research implications

This practitioner inquiry has been carried out by a passionate practitioner who advocates for early childhood. She has used this research as a means to support an inclusive opportunity for children who have ‘children’s plans’ (Getting it right for every child, GIRFEC form) to not only have a child’s plan but to have knowledgeable and nurturing educators who embrace the rights of the child to express the child’s views in all matters concerning them.

The UNCRC (1989) Article 12 states, “every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This principle recognises children and young people as actors in their own lives and applies at all times throughout a child’s life.”

In the Early Learning and Childcare Community where a child has a child’s plan in place, there are children who may not have the ability or wish to articulate through their voice. This can be the case for many children with additional support needs (ASN) it can also be the case where speech and language has not developed. Therefore, if we are getting it right for every child there needs to be systems in place to value what children can do and not see children as a deficit.

Lisa, intervention pedagogue, has enabled through this practitioner inquiry an opportunity to carry out research using a focus group of practitioners to explore through providing supportive information to increase practitioners’ knowledge of observation and capturing children’s perspectives beyond verbal communication and look at ways that nonverbal (before words) children can communicate and be included.

Although this inquiry was carried out with one team, the plan would be to roll this out with other teams across the local authority to enable a deeper understanding in relation to practitioners having robust systems in place to capture children’s perspectives which go beyond voice. The focus purpose was to enable these perspectives to be recorded within each child’s individual plan to enable their participation and perspectives to be part of their plan and not completed by an adult to them but instead capture these with each individual child.

When reflecting on Froebel he reminds us “Let us learn from our Children. Let us attend to the knowledge which their lives gently urge upon us and listen to the quiet demands of their hearts. Let us live for our children, then will their lives bring us joy and peace and we shall ourselves begin to grow in wisdom” (Froebel. 1885:92).

This would link in well with our Scottish practitioner guidance which advocates ‘starting where the child is’ approach (RtA, 2020:65).

In addition, the participatory process ensures each child is being valued for who they are “… which positions young children as active participants in the … process” (Clark, 2017). This inquiry has led onto further learning around dialogic pedagogy where White (2016) provides literature to further support the ongoing knowledge following this research.

Practitioner enquiry

This practitioner inquiry shows when opportunities of a focus group are carried out with practitioners, this has supported further developing knowledge about specific key areas such as going beyond the voice, practitioners have shown a greater understanding of the meaning of children’s perspectives which is an inclusive word to use rather than naming ‘voice.’

This resonates greatly with the Froebelian Principle of ‘Knowledgeable, Nurturing Educator’ along with ‘Valuing Childhood in its own Right’ (Froebel Trust, npn).

Leadership learning

This practitioner inquiry has enabled an Early Intervention Pedagogue to carry out a focus group study with practitioners, who were the participants in the research process of this inquiry.

I have learnt where there are passionate practitioners who have a genuine interest to get it right for every child, and open minded to learning new information to make positive interventions which aligns with a rights-based approach. The literature enabled a rich understanding to inform thinking as opposed to opinion-based discussions. The reflective discussions are an important element of process along with the tools and literature to support.

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    30 May 2023 at 7:39 pm

    Well done for completing this wonderful piece of practitioner inquiry/ research Lisa. Wonderful to see practitioners as the participants. This has enabled the inquiry to have positive impacts where the research has certainly fused with practice. Which also gives a holistic approach towards inclusion where each unique individual child is respected for who they are and what they can bring to their child plan, therefore not seen as a deficit rather an approach to start with each child, not preconceive adult ideas. I am interested to see in what ways can this be carried forward to enable examples of children’s perspectives to be recorded onto their own Child’s plan?


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  2. Lynette Wilson
    Lynette Wilson
    31 May 2023 at 6:25 pm

    What a great project! Definitely consideration needs to be given on lots or aspects of our practice and as practitioners remembering one approach may not gather children’s perspective fully. I really like that you asked your participant’s to consider “so what do we do with their perspectives”?


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  3. Tammy Henderson
    Tammy Henderson
    08 Jun 2023 at 2:21 pm

    This is a great project. It was lovely to read how you took your practitioners along every step of the journey with you and this has clearly impacted positively on the practice in your establishment.


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  4. Steve Rivers
    Steve Rivers
    13 Jun 2023 at 10:27 am

    Thanks for sharing this Lisa. Very interesting and relevant. Most informative is how your planned approach with the team and their CLPL led through to their feedback and your own reflection. I am very interested to take this forward myself in my Local Authority


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