Being an effective key person

Implementing key person working is an essential part of high quality practice with children under five and their families. Early Years Update discusses practical steps that effective key persons will take, and suggests how to support key persons in their role

Effective key person working provides the foundation on which to build strong positive relationships with a child's parents, thereby helping to ensure the best outcomes for that child as he or she progresses through the Early Years Foundation Stage. The role of the key person is stressed within the EYFS framework, building on Elinor Goldschmeid's work in defining the role of the key person and emphasising its importance in enhancing a child's daily experience in a childcare setting (Goldschmeid & Jackson, 2004).

The role of the key person in the setting is to ‘look out for' and pay special attention to a child during his or her time in the setting. Each key person will be responsible for a small group of children, getting to know them and their parents and family members well. Working in this way helps to show that all children are respected and valued as individuals, and avoids the danger of children becoming anonymous in a large group setting.

Practical ideas

In auditing key person working in your setting you may find it useful to use the following list, which covers the key elements of the key person role.

Effective key person working involves practitioners:

  • Spending time getting to know each child's family well, and building up a relationship of trust with them.
  • Learning as much as possible about each child in his or her key group - their individual interests, behaviours and preferences.
  • Being available to welcome the child and parents into the setting at the beginning of the day.
  • Spending time listening to what parents have to say about their child and using this information to help the child have the best possible day in the setting.
  • Where necessary, reassuring parents, sharing information with them and signposting them to sources of help and advice.
  • As far as possible, attending to the feeding and care routines of the children in their key group - these are important times for building strong positive relationships between child and adult.
  • Being available to the children in the group during the day, showing an interest in what each child is doing and what he or she is feeling.
  • Contributing to the range of observations and documentation that will be gathered to record the child's day.
  • Helping parents to feel fully connected with their child's life in the setting by sharing information - verbal feedback, written observations and photographs - with parents at the end of the day.
  • Passing on information to other practitioners in the setting to feedback to parents if the key person is not present when the child is collected. Ignoring this essential aspect of good practice can mistakenly give parents the impression that nobody has been closely involved with their child's welfare, learning and development during the course of the day.
  • Encouraging parents to become involved with their own child's learning and development at home, providing help, advice and resources to enable them to do this.
  • Looking carefully at the settings' organisation and management to find ways to minimise the number of transitions and changes of key person that a family experiences during a child's time in the early years setting.
  • Supporting parents during periods of transition - from one room in the setting to another, or between early years settings.

Being a key person is an important and emotionally demanding role, but many practitioners have commented on how key person working has improved the quality of their work and their job satisfaction by highlighting the significance of the interactions they have with the children in their care, and also with their families.

To support practitioners in their role it is important to:

  • provide training for staff taking on the key person role for the first time;
  • think carefully and be flexible about how children and parents are allocated to particular key people;
  • organise the setting's routines and rotas to ensure staff have time to carry out their role effectively;
  • have a back-up system in place, for example buddying or shared key person working, to cope with staff absences through holidays, training or sickness;
  • reflect on key person working regularly during staff meetings and training sessions so staff can air concerns and share examples of good practice;
  • making it clear to practitioners that they are not ‘on their own' when working as a key person, but have the support of colleagues and managers in handling situations or issues that concern them.

Links with the EYPS Standards: S3, S5, S8, S13, S20, S23, S29, S30, S31, S32
Links with Ofsted SEF: Sections 4 & 5

Goldschmeid, E & Jackson, S (2004) People under three: Young children in daycare 2nd Edition, Routledge, Abingdon

Author details

Pat’s background as a research scientist has led to her interest in the idea of babies and young children as researchers, and to recognising the value of involving families in their children’s learning. She has extensive experience of the early...

Linda has over 40 years' experience in education as a teacher, headteacher, adviser and lead officer for early years for a local authority. She is passionate about developing children’s thinking and learning, valuing creative learning...