Does the application of self regulation in Reception support children to reach age expected levels in PSED?

By Hayley Powell


Over the past academic school year, I have carried out a mixed methods study in my primary school looking at how self regulation could be used to support Reception children in achieving the age expected levels in their Personal Social and Emotional Development. The two areas that were specifically looked at were Managing Feelings and Behaviour and Self confidence and Self Awareness. In the role of team leader of Reception, I am one of three teachers and as a team we decided to carry out the study together across the three classrooms with 90 children to start in the study.

In the cohort of children that entered Reception in September 2015, independence, through analysis of data and discussions, was noted as an area that needed developing with children relying heavily on adult support and intervention. We decided as a team that to support children to achieve and possibly exceed the Early Learning Goals in the two previously mentioned areas at the end of the year, action needed to be taken and implemented at the beginning.

Context of the school:

This school is larger than the average-sized primary school with children aged 3 to 11 years old. The proportion of pupils eligible for the pupil premium, which provides additional funding for children in the care of the local authority, pupils known to be eligible for free school meals and those from service families, is below the national average.  Almost all pupils are from minority ethnic backgrounds and most of them speak English as an additional language.  


Ethnographic Research

“Ethnography literally means ‘a portrait of a people’. Ethnography is a written description of a particular culture – the customs, beliefs, and behaviour – based on information collected through fieldwork.” –Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson, 2000.

Ethnography is a qualitative research method often used in social sciences, particularly in anthropology and in sociology. It is often employed for gathering empirical data on human societies/cultures. Data collection is often done through participant observation in which the researcher becomes a part of the community on which research has to be done. Data can also be collected through interviews, questionnaires, etc. Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied through writing. It can also be called a “case report”. Ethnography can be widely used in education. It helps in addressing the educational problems of a particular group. The researcher has to become a part of the particular group in order to conduct ethnographic study where the focus is to get familiar with group’s culture to then sense the underlying problems.

Action research

“is a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions” –

In schools, action research refers to a wide variety of evaluative, investigative, and analytical research methods designed to diagnose problems or weaknesses—whether organizational, academic, or instructional—and help educators develop practical solutions to address them quickly and efficiently. Action research may also be applied to programs or educational techniques that are not necessarily experiencing any problems, but that educators simply want to learn more about and improve. The general goal is to create a simple, practical, repeatable process of iterative learning, evaluation, and improvement that leads to increasingly better results for schools, teachers, or programs.

Action research may also be called a cycle of action or cycle of inquiry, since it typically follows a predefined process that is repeated over time. A simple illustrative example:

  • Identify a problem to be studied
  • Collect data on the problem
  • Organize, analyze, and interpret the data
  • Develop a plan to address the problem
  • Implement the plan
  • Evaluate the results of the actions taken
  • Identify a new problem
  • Repeat the process

A review of research which informed this study:

I began this study through looking at evidence collected and collated by the education endowment foundation who have carried out studies which looked at months of impact certain areas would have for the children in an Early Years Setting. Studies were carried out into areas such as communication and language approaches, early numeracy approaches and parental engagement to name a few. However, out of all the studies that the Education Endowment Foundation carried out, a study into the impact of self regulation strategies was shown to be, if implemented correctly, making the biggest impact on children’s early development. They found that approaches that look to enhance learning by development of self-regulation have an average impact of seven additional months’ progress.

“Children’s self-regulation skills reflect their ability to manage their own behaviour or learning” (Education Endowment Foundation, 2015). With our children in Reception showing a reliance on adult support, as a team we knew this was something we needed to change to support the children to be able to progress and achieve the outcomes we wanted and knew they could achieve by the end of the Reception year. “The development of self-regulation and executive function is consistently linked with successful learning, including pre-reading skills, early mathematics and problem solving.  A number of studies also suggest that improving the self-regulation skills of children in the early years is likely to have a lasting positive impact on later learning at school, and also have a positive impact on wider outcomes such as behaviour and persistence”. If children are to take more ownership of their own learning and behaviour in the Early Years, they would not only be able to achieve the desired outcomes in Reception, but also to become life long learners through engaging in successful learning behaviours from an early age. 

Development in children begins by reliance on outside help, parents and care givers who respond to their children’s needs. It is this transition from external regulation to internal self regulation that has been shown to be one of the “most important developmental tasks” and one that a child “will continue to work on and need throughout their lives” (Young children on the web, 2006). Therefore it is not a skill that can be overlooked or one that can be expected for children to just be able to do. It is one that needs to supported and developed by significant adults, including a child’s teacher, throughout a child’s life. A child may “really need support in developing self regulation skills” (ttacnews, 2012) and as their teacher it is one of my jobs to support them with this.

When researching further, I discovered that self-regulation “is not a skill that develops in isolation” (ttacnews, 2012) and strategies that support in the development of this have been linked and grouped with behavioural development, emotional development and social development. “All areas that affect a child’s ability to learn” and one of the key areas in Reception, Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED).  I decided to focus on Managing feelings and Behaviour and Self confidence and Self Awareness, areas that support and develop behaviour, emotions and how children are able to interact with others. In this study I hoped to see that through the implementation of self regulation strategies, children would be able to shift from the external regulation they rely so heavily on when they are babies and toddlers to becoming independent, self regulating learners.

An overview of action:

Implementation of my self regulation project began by ensuring that the change that I wanted to be implemented would be seen as a positive change rather than a negative change by the whole Reception team. Working in early years, the importance of the whole team is always apparent. One member of staff not sharing the values of the rest of the team can halt a change and stop a successful outcome. Therefore I began this project through training of the current staff on the importance of self regulation and independence followed up by regular meetings with all staff to discuss our study. We regularly discussed how the study was developing, tweaks that were needed to be made and next steps.

Analysis of the classroom was then our next step, we thought about the resources that were put out, how accessible were the resources for children to access independently and what did the children want in the classroom. As a team we wanted a classroom environment that children could access all areas throughout the year depending on where there independent play decided to take them. Children have been asked and have been involved throughout the year in the resources available and areas were changed to have a constant access to all resources. Our continuous provision has also been continuously linked to our topics to excite the children in their learning. Our next step was to then ensure the development of the children’s self regulation skills. One weekly focus activity was carried out for the first term and a half specifically focusing on developing the children’s skills in play and independence.

Our project was then combined with another Early Years project that focussed on creative and critical thinking to help to develop children’s ideas further. In combination with this I worked alongside another 9 practitioners across 5 schools as part of the Gants Hill Partnership Teaching Alliance. We worked together over a period of 6 months to support in the development of all studies. I went to other schools to look at best Early Years practice as well as the other practitioners coming to my school to act as a ‘critical friend’ to analyse how the self regulation study was developing and what could be done next to improve the project even further.


  • Children settled and secure in day to day routines.
  • Children independently choosing activities in the classroom, accessing resources on own and learning being shown across the classroom.
  • Children’s confidence and engagement can be seen throughout the three classrooms in all areas of their play.
  • Comments from members of staff on the independence of children in their own learning

“Children are pros at self regulation”.

“All children were purposefully engaged in learning”.

“Adult interaction was skill full and sensitive”

  • Members of the reception team working continuously on their own targets to support the children in their extension of their play.
  • Children beginning to peer assess and self assess to extend their own learning.
  • Data to have shown a significant increase in scores from Autumn 1 to Spring 2.

graph 2


graph 3









The above graph shows how at the end of Autumn 1:

80% of children were below age expected, 20% of children were at age expected and 0% were above age expected in Managing Feelings and Behaviour for Reception.

Compared to present (Spring 2):

26% of children below age expected, 47% of children at age expected and 27% above age expected in Managing Feelings and Behaviour for Reception.

graph 1






graph 4











The above graph shows how at the end of Autumn 1:

86% of children were below age expected, 14% of children were at age expected and 0% were above age expected in Self confidence and Self awareness for Reception.

Compared to present (Spring 2):

22% of children below age expected, 40% of children at age expected and 38% above age expected in Managing Feelings and Behaviour for Reception.


  • The children in my school showed me in order to become life long learners, a good start to Education is essential in the Early Years. Self regulation was shown to be a key skill for children to develop to become motivated, independent learners that have positive learning behaviours.
  • Children in my school who have become independent and have developed positive learning behaviours, have been able to focus and achieve in other areas such as reading, writing, maths.
  • To have been able to implement a successful change a shared and agreed value needed to be achieved across the Reception team.


  • Do you have a network of schools that you could work with to develop, support and guide to achieve best practice in your setting?
  • Do you have an area of learning or something that you have noticed in your setting that needs attention and could be used as a study?
  • Do you have the right people to support new staff who are coming in to your setting to ensure a study that you start can be continued and sustained with or without your influence?