In one of our NMT Discussions we spoke to Dr Helen Edwards and Steve Edwards, co-founders and directors at The Foundation Stage Forum and Tapestry.
Our conversation delved into many different topics including how best to support practitioners during this crisis.
Because remote working has now become our new normal online communities and forums are becoming more important for those across the early years sector.
Helen and Steve work across two platforms that support the early years sector.
Tapestry builds a unique record of a child’s experiences and development using photos, diary entries and videos. The Tapestry platform seamlessly enables these experiences to be kept as a permanent record of each child’s journey so that parents are able to view online their child’s progress and how much fun they’re having.
The Foundation Stage Forum (FSF) is a place for educators to come together, to discover, share ideas, ask questions and give support. As well as a virtual room for discussions, FSF also offers a library of articles and podcasts on relevant issues, given by practitioners, academics and advisors.
Our discussion was a lively and informative one, but we couldn’t make it through all the audience questions. Therefore Helen and Steve offered to answer them and send them back to me so you could read all their responses.
- One for Helen, what have been some of the biggest concerns you have heard from early years practitioners? Our primary concerns were around whether settings were going to stay open for children of key workers, or to close. In both instances, there was much concern and discussion around staying in touch with children and families and helping to support home learning. Thirdly, the fiasco with the furlough arrangements, with a misunderstanding that settings could have the government pay 80% of staff salaries whilst also keeping the early years funding. Poor communication from the government and directives issued on Friday evenings!
- Not sure if experiences are welcome as well as questions but I have a lot of parents who switch off to messages and we do send them out every day. Maybe it’s the amount but wondered if you had the same? You mean they unsubscribe so they don’t receive notification? In our experience, this is often due to pressing the unsubscribe button by mistake. We are often asked how parents can reinstate themselves! It could be that they want to control when they are notified – parents can opt for a daily notification, rather than immediate, which might be more convenient – particularly for working parents who would rather not be disturbed in a meeting.
- How should we as nursery operators adapt our use of edtech? How has Steve approached new developments? We’re very lucky in having a large customer base (our ‘weavers’) many of whom engage closely with us. We regularly visit settings, asking questions about existing or proposed new functionality, and observing how they currently work. This is incredibly useful to us, as it allows us to shape our software in a realistic way. The very first version of Tapestry was developed, not from a base of software knowledge, but from our long experience of how early years settings work, and knowledge of that natural workflow dictated how Tapestry’s functionality would look before a line of code was written.
We now have two routes into new functionality: firstly, our product and customer support team receive hundreds of suggestions for new features, which are all entered into quite a complex database, and duplicate suggestions add up so we can see the most common suggestions.
Secondly, our education and product development groups are always on the lookout for small and more significant new features to prioritise and schedule in. The most challenging part of this is that we have so many on our wishlist that we know some of them are a long way from being implemented!
This proved to be an excellent reference when the Covid crisis hit and the schools closed. Our chief engineer went through this list of many hundreds of suggestions, and selected those that would be most useful in a remote learning environment, and then ranked them in terms of quick and easy implementation – meaning that within a week we were able to add four key features that helped enormously as practitioners got to grips with closed schools.
- What is your opinion on the recent EYFS? What was missing? Sorry two questions…
In summary, with the exception of Understanding the World (which is utterly dreadful) the areas of learning education programmes are, I think, basically ok. They are quite bland, to be honest, which is a good thing in a way; it allows settings to develop exciting, innovative curricula within a wide remit. The programmes are not restrictive. I don’t think there is anything in those programmes that we don’t already do in early years. I’m pleased ‘behaviour’ isn’t mentioned in PSED, and that to develop a life-long love of reading is the very first sentence in Literacy. I would have liked to see a similar statement in the Maths programme.
The ELGs are another story, however!
- What’s the most popular feature on Tapestry. The simple sharing of observations, photos and videos with the parents. The first thing that Tapestry developed! Other popular features are the Reflections feature, Activities Catalogue and the Care Diary.
- I’m a nursery owner and I use Tapestry but I also use Famly which has a feature allowing keychildren interact. Will Tapestry develop a similar one? The best way to have new features built into Tapestry in the future is to request it in a support ticket or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). As mentioned earlier we have a very active database of suggestions that feeds directly into our prioritization group. If you do this, try to give as much detail on what you’d like to see as possible. Otherwise we may interpret what you want very liberally!
- Is data security ever a concern? Maybe not for Tapestry but in general. Data security is our highest concern. If you read the full contract you’ll see the lengths we go to to try to ensure the privacy and security we would all want if we were customers of Tapestry. Our data is multiply redundant (backed up in different countries), and we regularly commission third parties to test our defenses. More detail is available on this page, as well as the full contract giving a description of our security and privacy policies: https://tapestry.info/security.html.
- I have a question for Helen, how have you changed Tapestry to adapt to the crisis? Are there more resources online than before? When the lockdown was announced we immediately went through our wishlist of future features, to see what might be immediately helpful in the new lockdown environment. This was a combined effort from the developers, product support and development teams and our education group (consisting of EYFS providers and advisers, and KS1, KS2 and SEND teachers). These are some of the new features and resources we have added since March 23rd (day 1 of lockdown):
By end of week 1
- Extended video length (from 2 minutes to 10 minutes (for stories and other content)
- Embedded links in observation notes (enabling references to outside resources)
- Memos (enabling contact outside observation to individual or all relatives)
- Document upload (enabling resources and info to be added to memos and documents)
- Activities feature (so staff can create recommended activities for parents and children to carry out. Additionally, the education group began creating activities for staff to adapt and include – currently there are over 50 of these.
- Scheduling of activities – so staff can create a timetable of things to do over the next eg week.
- Audio files (for eg delivering stories of up to 30 minutes)
Since April we’ve been adding and refining other features, as well as getting back to our usual frequent feature development cycle.
- How do you handle the queries and concerns that you get sent in? We have a support ticket system and we answer them as they come in. On normal days, most people would get a response within an hour or two. At peak periods, this could be half a day on a weekday. We have a product support team, which includes members of our education group here at Tapestry, who answer tickets- 9 of us altogether. At our busiest times (September), it’s often all hands on deck!
We’re often asked why we don’t have a telephone call centre as our first line of support. We prefer to use online support tickets as our first line, because tickets submitted through Tapestry automatically give us crucial data that we would otherwise have to spend time asking for. Also, the support tickets are ‘triaged’ so that they are assigned to the support person best able to deal with them. We’re very proud of our product support department, both for its personal nature and for its detailed knowledge of Tapestry. If you have time, please visit our testimonials page: https://tapestry.info/testimonials.html
- The EYFS left a lot to be desired, we need to be moving forward and it missed a lot out. Do you both feel the same? Same answer as for number 4. It’s good that it missed out things- it doesn’t mean you can’t do them! It actually gives you more freedom than a set of restrictive instructions.
- It’s going to be so important to keep conversations going, do you have any long term strategies as this crisis isn’t going anywhere soon. Keep doing what we’re all doing. Using available technology to keep in touch, share learning and development with parents and carers and also use it to reflect on practice and make plans for our provision. This is more important than ever, as things will no doubt, continue to change on a weekly, if not daily, basis. If you’re Tapestry customers, don’t forget about the FSF online support network, which you all have free access to. You’ll be given a free member account if you access it while logged into Tapestry. https://eyfs.info
- Technology is so crucial now and as a single setting owner I have the basics but I want to improve my use of it. I’ll check out Tapestry after this, thanks. Excellent, I hope you get on well with it. Use the support ticket system if you have any questions and test out the product support of which we’re very proud. And there is a huge bank of written tutorials covering all aspects of Tapestry – find it here: https://eyfs.info/forums/topic/46927-full-contents-page/
Additionally, we have a growing series of video tutorials and other related content that you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKWS5eB4fZL5HVJNNDXKlPw/featured
- Do you think the Government has done enough to support early years? Not in the least. Reading Nathan Archer and Beatrice Merrick’s report, ‘Getting the Balance Right’ explains how the government’s complicated funding system for early years is targeting the wrong families, and having a detrimental effect on the learning and development of our youngest children, particularly from disadvantaged families. The closure of so many Children’s Centres and the collapse of advisory staff at local authority level, has meant that settings find it extremely difficult to provide the best for their families. And finally, despite 95% of settings being judged good or outstanding, the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is increasing. So it appears Ofsted is measuring the wrong things.