Evaluating outcomes for children in Reception or Key Stage 1 requires an innovative and creative approach.

Whilst older children may be able to articulate why activities worked well or why they did not, or talk about the effect activities had on them, younger children are less likely to be able to provide this information via standard evaluation techniques, such as focus groups, interviews and diaries.

Effective evaluation

Effective evaluation is not an ‘add-on’ or a ‘one-off event’ that is done ‘to’ those involved. Instead it should be seen as a collaborative process that is done ‘with’ all those involved. It is purposeful and provides valuable insights to inform planning, preparation and implementation strategies. The process of evaluation has clearly defined stages in a cyclical structure, as illustrated below.

Early Years Graphic Evaluation

Figure 1: The cyclical process of evaluation

This leaflet one of a series on ‘listening as a way of life’ written by the Young Children’s Voices Network, outlines why we should listen to young children and what the benefits to early years provision are.

Easy evaluation

This simple process will enable you to evaluate the impact of a Learning Away residential with a pre-selected focus group of Key Stage 1 children. There are nine steps to the model and these steps correlate to the four cyclical stages of the evaluation process.   Open a ‘pen portrait’ template here.


  • Identify outcomes for the residential. What are your reasons for providing this experience? How are your plans for children’s learning informing and shaping the type of experience you offer? These outcomes form an important part of the planning for the residential and need to be agreed in good time.
  • Identify a small focus group of three or four children. The focus group should reflect a cross section of the range of ability within the larger group attending the residential and participating children should be identified at the earliest opportunity to allow staff to prepare the pen portraits that will provide the baseline information.
  • Write a pen portrait against the chosen outcomes for each child in the focus group. The pen portrait should be structured to include the following information about the child:
    • Interaction with peers and adults.
    • General background information, e.g. home life.
    • Your view about the child’s attitude to learning and how they feel about school.
    • Personality traits, e.g. confident, outgoing, reserved etc..
    • Preferred learning styles.
    • Views of parents.
    • Comments from the child.
  • Collect any relevant benchmark data. This may include attendance, attainment, achievement, exclusions – plus anything else the member of staff responsible for the pen portraits thinks is relevant to the residential.

STAGE 2: MAKING IT HAPPEN (Gather information/evidence)

  • Observe the focus group children on the residential against the chosen outcomes. Observation evidence could be in the form of written notes, photographs with annotated notes attached, audio or visual recordings. If the class teacher is not attending the residential then another member of the team will need to observe the children.
  • Observe the focus group children on return from the residential against the chosen outcomes and annotate/add to the pen portrait. If the class teacher did not attend the residential, this can be done in a discussion with the member of staff who observed the child on the residential. Observations should take place within two weeks of returning to school.
  • Observe the children again two terms later and add further comments to the pen portrait. Depending on the time of year the residential took place, this final observation may need to be completed by a new class teacher if the children have moved to a new year group.

STAGE 3: MAKING SENSE OF THE EVIDENCE (Analyse information/evidence)

  • Analyse the data you have collected. Compare the original benchmark data with the information gathered via the subsequent observations. What is this information telling you? Has the child achieved your intended outcomes? How can you tell? If the child did not reach the intended outcome, can you identify why? What can this tell you about the child’s on-going development, or indeed, the structure and content of future residentials?
  • Write a short summative statement identifying the progress and outcomes. Include attainment data where available. Depending on the timing of the residential in the school year, attainment data may not be available. In this instance it should be added to the summative statement as soon as possible after it becomes available.

STAGE 4: MAKING THE CASE (Share your findings)

  • Share your findings on the outcomes for children in the focus group. Parents, colleagues and senior leadership team members will all find this information useful.
  • Collate the summative statements. These will provide valuable insights into the success of the residential, and may highlight aspects that need to be adapted in the future.
  • Create a summary of the highlights and benefits. Use this document as a promotional tool to celebrate the benefits and outcomes of the trip, and to gather support for future residentials.

Enhanced evaluation

Additional information and materials to enable an enhanced evaluation to take place have been collated into a downloadable toolkit, inspired and informed by Alison Clark and Peter Moss’s Mosaic Approach. The Mosaic Approach is a creative framework for listening to young children’s voices through a range of practical activities. The idea of the approach is to represent children’s perspectives and create an evaluative ‘bigger picture’ from smaller pieces of information gathered from children (and adults) via a variety of sources.

The enhanced model is more complex, adding further evaluation measures to the basic cyclical process outlined above, but can be used with even the very youngest children. It includes innovative ideas that can be fully integrated into the curriculum both before and after the residential and offers lots of scope for rich curriculum activities that have the potential to enhance learning in the classroom, as well as learning away. Successful implementation of this model will require integration of the evaluation processes into your setting’s existing ethos, routines and planned learning programmes.

What next?

Working through this set of Learning Away resources has offered the opportunity to reflect on the benefits of taking very young children away on residential trips. It has considered the challenges and risks from the perspectives of parents, children and staff, identified strategies to minimise and manage these risks and looked at key considerations to ensure that a residential trip is a successful experience for children and their families.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to planning and providing residential experiences – for children of any age. Instead, as is best practice within education, we need to consider the individual child and their needs. Using the commonly accepted working practices of the early years sector as inspiration these resources explored the preparation and partnerships that help secure positive experiences, and recognised the need to work closely with each child’s parents when deciding whether a residential trip is an appropriate experience for them to be involved in.

Pause for thought

Early years Graphic

Revisit your initial evaluation of your own levels of confidence. Has anything changed? How do you now feel about the idea of taking very young children on a residential trip?