Where are we now?

Change is a part of life. Some would argue that changes are what drives society forward, improving life one small step at a time. In early years and education, we are used to changes; last year the Government made changes to the Ofsted Inspection Framework and prior to that, there were changes to the GCSE grading system, abandoning the decades-old A – G grades in favour of 1 – 9. Before that there were levels, the introduction of the National Curriculum and so on and so forth.

In early years education, we have had Birth to 3 and the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (3-5 years), Stepping Stones and in reception there was the Foundation Stage profile.

The current statutory requirement, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was first proposed in 2008, and has been revised and updated several times since (2012, 2014 and 2017). With each successive update, there have inevitably been changes to daily practice; policies have been rewritten, staff retrained, and paperwork or technology altered in some way. Some have welcomed the reforms; others have suggested improvements and yet others have resisted change throughout.

The reality is, however, that in September 2021, early years settings in England will need to comply with a revised EYFS Framework and this will apply by law to all settings in England. There are 9 months to go.

So where are we with the changes, and what do you need to know? Over a series of articles in coming months, we look at some of these changes in more detail, what it means for your setting and what you should be doing to prepare, starting with the current, changeable situation.

According to the DfE, the new EYFS Framework will outline “the standards that school and childcare providers must meet for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5”.

The reforms are designed to:

  • improve outcomes at 5 years old
  • improve language development for all children but particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • reduce workload for teachers and childcare practitioners

The initial document proposing changes was first published in October 2018 and, as with any major change of this nature, the Government launched a consultation period between October 2019 and the end of January 2020, seeking input from various stakeholders on the changes they proposed to make, and many industry bodies, nursery settings and childminders gave feedback on the proposed changes.

The consultation covered:

  • proposed revisions to the educational programmes
  • proposed revisions to the Early Learning Goals
  • proposed changes to the assessment and moderation process for the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile
  • and a proposed change to the safeguarding and welfare requirements to promote good oral health

In October 2019, the ‘early years coalition’ published its response to the Government EYFS consultation which you can read here and the consultation process officially began.

A response to this EYFS Reforms consultation was published on 1st July 2020. However, many early years organisations have been ‘disappointed’ with the response to the consultations, and there have been petitions set up to revoke the proposed changes.

Several industry organisations have concerns about the changes going ahead. Kinderley.co.uk sums them up as:

  • worries about the reforms leading to a narrow curriculum with high pressure for children to learn and reception teachers to teach to the Early Learning Goals (ELGs)
  • claims that the goals are not developmentally appropriate for five-year-olds (never mind the summer-born children, or those with EAL or SEND), especially in areas such as mathematics and literacy
  • concerns about retaining the Characteristics of Effective Learning and that the reforms will lead to children learning from books or by rote

The Early Years Alliance published its response to the changes here, summarising the changes for the different documents and its response to them.

Alongside the consultation, the Government also asked for some settings to become “early adopters” meaning that these settings would adopt the new framework a year early (from September 2020) and feedback their experience of it before the final publication of the revised document later in 2021.

There were 2 separate areas which settings could choose to adopt early, and they could choose one or both of the areas, depending on their setting, the age of their children, and their preferences. These were:

The Government also published the Early years foundation stage profile 2021 handbook EYFS reforms early adopter version June 2021 to help settings implement the changes.

Approximately 20% of the sector (2800 schools) chose to become early adopters of the new framework and have been effectively trialling it since September 2020. But with coronavirus affecting all aspects of daily life and nurseries having to introduce COVID-secure practices, along with the challenges faced if staff are off sick or self-isolating, the introduction of this has not been without its problems.

How has COVID affected the changes?

The new framework is still due to come into force in September 2021, and the early adopters are using this framework currently. However, due to concerns about coronavirus, the Government also published 2 documents earlier in the year that are relevant to childcare settings and their fulfilment of the current EYFS.

These were:

  • Actions for Early Years and Childcare Providers during the Coronavirus Outbreak which includes new, temporary changes to the EYFS requirements and which has most recently been updated on November 5th. Amendments are intended to give the early years sector some flexibility to respond to changes in workforce availability and potential fluctuations in demand while ensuring children are kept safe and allow for some changes in a setting’s compliance with certain areas of the existing EYFS
  • Early Years Foundation Stage: Coronavirus Disapplications, which contains full details of the changes and what this means in practice for settings

The guidance states that early years providers should fully familiarise themselves with these changes to ensure they understand the flexibilities available to them and are meeting the modified requirements during the coronavirus outbreak.

The following areas of the EYFS statutory requirements are affected by the temporary changes during the pandemic.

Section 5.1 – disapplication of learning and development requirements - early years providers should use reasonable endeavours to meet the existing learning and development requirements, instead of this being something they ‘must do’.

Section 5.2 – Assessment progress check at age 2 - the progress check at age 2 will not need to be undertaken during any period of intervention related to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Section 7.1 – staff qualifications and ratios – these may be adjusted in certain circumstances.

Section 7.2 – Paediatric first aid – the requirements for the provision of qualified staff in some age groups may be altered in certain circumstances.

As some point in the future, these disapplications will cease and at that point, providers will need to again follow existing EYFS statutory guidance. You can also read a summary of disapplication changes here.

Look out for part 2 of this series looking at the changes to “Development Matters.”


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