About cookies

The NCETM site uses cookies. Read more about our privacy policy

Please agree to accept our cookies. If you continue to use the site, we'll assume you're happy to accept them.


Personal Learning Login

Sign Up | Forgotten password?
Register with the NCETM

Developing the use of the subject knowledge SET with practitioners in the EYFS

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 19 April 2011 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 27 May 2011 by ncetm_administrator

Case Study One


One of the schools which took part in a recent Early Years Mathematics subject knowledge Self-Evaluation Tool (SET) project was a small, single form entry infant school and nursery with a relatively deprived catchment area on the outskirts of a major town. The recently appointed Headteacher had invested in some new wooden furniture for the Nursery and the huge stock of varied resources for the Foundation Stage had been carefully sorted, boxed and stored in an adjoining area.

Building works were awaited in the nursery area and this was reflected in the feel of the place. Few, if any, of the surfaces of the pristine new furniture were in use for learning. The wall displays were widely spaced and temporary to allow for quick removal for painting and a continuation of the beautifully painted favourite story characters adorning occasional walls in the rest of the school.

The nursery teacher had been teaching for 5 years, but had been out of nursery for the last three years. Having worked further up the school, she felt that she now saw the real importance of the foundation stage. She was keen to ensure that the children engaged in learning which would develop the firm foundations needed to underpin their future development.

Starting the project

An adviser visited the nursery and filmed some of the children as they went about their learning activities. The numeracy area consisted of a set of trays with items to count and sort, 2D and 3D shapes and some numeracy type games near a small table with 4 chairs. It was not until just before lunch that any of the children went to this area and got out any of the equipment. Two girls got out some 2D shapes and began to sort them, but were interrupted by the need to tidy up.

Watching the videos later, it was clear that there were many opportunities for problem solving, reasoning and numeracy (PSRN) learning, but most had simply been missed. Colleagues were interacting with the children but were often supporting practical activities, perhaps assuming that the learning implicit. Discussions quickly led to several simple ways to make the mathematical learning more explicit. In the home corner, baking trays with and without cake spaces, salt dough cookies and cakes and a coloured tea set for matching and laying the table quickly came to mind. Scales for cooking and for the regular making of play dough, a washing up bowl and bucket for sorting as well a set of phone numbers for story characters soon followed as the ideas began to flow.

Using the SET

As the discussion continued, the adviser and the nursery teacher worked through some areas of the SET, generating much discussion and reflection. It was the nursery teacher who did most of the talking. She later commented that working through the SET was a bit like a refresher course, and that it was very useful to do it with someone else, to discuss and bounce ideas off. At times, the SET was reassuring. Several things that the teacher had done, as well as things she had planned for the future, were quoted in the examples. There was a good balance between reassurance and challenge.

Some of the given examples such as putting marbles in a boat to see how many the boat could hold before it sank were quickly recognised as easily ‘doable’. Recognition that an adult did not really need to be at the painting table all the time followed. The children were well trained in how to manage the area themselves and only needed occasional support. That adult could be available to make learning explicit and extend it. Progressing through the SET, one particular question struck a chord - the nursery was clearly not a ‘numeracy rich’ environment.

Glancing around the nursery teacher commented,

"Well, it is there, but it’s hidden."

This was rapidly followed by the recognition that mark-making was underdeveloped too.

This time the comment was,

"There’s no reason why the children shouldn’t explore writing their age as well as the initial letter of their name."

Although there was a mark-making area, it was not moveable and there was no opportunity to mark-make in other areas, except perhaps in the sand. The clipboards were easily accessible, but tended to stay on the shelf. The nursery teacher resolved to put together some baskets with a selection of mark-making materials to place in each area and to ask all adults to model using the simple equipment.

The nursery teacher resolved to make the environment numeracy rich for the next visit. The counter could become a shop, with a till, shopping bags, priced goods and coins. There were several places where a washing line could be hung, with items to order or match and peg on. Shapes could be washed up and sorted. There could be items to count in the sand tray and number ducks in the water tray – and those were just the initial ideas.

The teacher continued to reflect on the questions asked in the SET and her responses to them over a holiday period. The SET helped her to focus on her current planning and she resolved to change it, in order to integrate number into more areas initially, followed by shape. Calculations would follow when the children were more experienced. She realised that the current planning sheet was skewed towards creative activities: PSRN was not even shown. The teacher resolved to include PSRN as a separate item as well as planning potential interactions in each area, integrating number initially into more areas. The plans would act as a reminder to the adults of what to look out for.

Outcomes from using the SET

The class teacher planned and held a maths focus day on the day the adviser returned to see the numeracy-rich environment. She felt that an occasional focus day would help the staff to learn how to notice the mathematical learning which was taking place, helping them to understand what they were looking for on general days. There were number ducks in the water tray, dinosaurs to find, sort and count  in the sand tray, number games on tables and the floor, a washing line for ordering numbered objects, a shop complete with priced items and a till and much more.

The environment was indeed numeracy-rich and all the adults were noticing and interacting with the children, particularly counting and sorting. The class teacher explained that she had been thinking about the environment and mark making in particular. She had prepared several sets of items for the children to order and peg on the washing line. There were three or four sets available on that day, but they would be changed regularly. This was a simple, easy job for the staff and would keep the children interested.

The telephone numbers for story characters had been a great success. Children often carried the number card with them as they chatted on the phone, which gave the staff the opportunity to talk about numbers. The focus on the washing line had helped staff to see which numbers the children knew and allowed them to target the ones which were not secure. 

The class teacher felt that working through the SET had definitely been worthwhile. It had acted as a refresher course, sometimes challenging, sometimes supporting. This helped her to realise what she is doing, which had the effect of making her more aware of what the children are doing so that she can move them on.

Her comment that,

"There are so many things that could be better"

showed the depth of her reflection and the commitment to do something about it. Working through the SET and having the opportunity to discuss it had also made her reflect more generally on the children’s mathematical learning. She felt refreshed and thought it would be useful to do something similar on a regular basis to maintain her raised awareness. As a way of doing this, she had arranged to have the Early Years Magazine sent to her iphone, which she then read on the bus on the way to school.


Comment on this item  
Add to your NCETM favourites
Remove from your NCETM favourites
Add a note on this item
Recommend to a friend
Comment on this item
Send to printer
Request a reminder of this item
Cancel a reminder of this item



There are no comments for this item yet...
Only registered users may comment. Log in to comment