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The Importance of the Key Person Approach

date March 14, 2024Dr Sue Allingham

Every so often someone posts a question on social media about the Key Person Approach.  More often than not these questions fall broadly into three categories:

  • Do children in Reception have to have a Key Person?
  • Can unqualified staff/ apprentices have a Key Person?
  • Does a Key Person only observe the children in their group?

These categories then spark all sorts of opinions and myths. Far too many times the term ‘key worker’ is used as if it is interchangeable with the term ‘Key Person’.  It is not.

The role of the Key Person is fundamental to our work with the youngest children as how we make relationships with each child and their family will affect how the child settles into the setting.  And this potentially will have a negative effect on their future development and learning.

Not only is the role fundamental, it is also statutory as part the Framework –

childminder in a montessori setting talking to children

Key person

3.35 Each child must be assigned a key person. Their role is to help ensure that every child’s care is tailored to meet their individual needs, to help the child become familiar with the setting, offer a settled relationship for the child and build a relationship with their parents and/or carers. They should also help families engage with more specialist support if appropriate.

But with so many questions still being asked about the role, it is clear that there is a need for it to be better understood.  Firstly there needs to be clarity about the fact that the role is statutory throughout the EYFS.  So this includes in schools until the end of the Reception year.  This is often overlooked, as there is a tendency to view staffing differently in a school setting.  This needs addressing.

The problem is rooted in the fact that we use the words ‘Key Person’ as part of our everyday professional vocabulary, with the assumption that we all understand the same thing by the expression.  It is increasingly clear that this is not the case.  In order to be sure that there is an informed perspective of the role, and that it is a clearly understood and active role within the setting – including schools- it is important to do a little background reading.

Firstly it is important to be clear that the role has a specific title because it is significantly different from that of the ‘Key Worker’.   This extract defines the differences clearly –


childminder helping a boy

The key person approach in the Early Years Foundation Stage

In both the Learning and Development requirements… and the Safeguarding and Welfare requirements…the importance of a key person is emphasised, based on attachment theory. This is unique to the EYFS but has the potential to be misunderstood. In the literature underpinning the Tickell review, Evangelou et al (2009) consider the impact of attachment on development and cite the considerable research that supports it. The work of Elfer, Goldschmied and Selleck (2005) has been influential in establishing the role of the key person working with very young children in nurseries and has been revised (2012) to encompass the EYFS and then the transition to primary school. Nurturing relationships are without doubt important in the social and emotional development of children and in the context of multiple caregivers in settings, where a practitioner can be consistently present in a regular way over time, there are seen to be benefits.

(Elliott, Heather and Davies, H. (2016) The continuing quest for balance: the position of the Key person in managing the duality of assessment purpose in the Early Years Foundation Stage in England. UNSPECIFIED. (Unpublished))

This helpful article goes on to point out how the terms ‘Key Person’ and ‘Key Worker’ are often confused and conflated.  The authors go into a definition of terms that demonstrates how each is different and how important it is that, as a profession, we are clear with our use of terminology.

In my upcoming Kinderly webinar I will look at the role of the Key Person, what it involves, discuss some of the myths about the role and reference useful text for further reading. Click on the image below to register:

kinderly learn webinar with dr sue allingham on the key person approach