In revising the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile, the Government's stated aims were to reduce workload, improve outcomes and improve social mobility. Three priorities that, if achieved, would make a huge difference to the experience of early years education for children and for practitioners. So, will the reforms, as outlined, deliver?
There are many practitioners who do not see the proposed changes to the EYFS as likely to reduce workload. Rather, there is a commonly held belief that changes to the education programmes and Early Learning Goals (ELGs) will have little impact on workload without an increase in resources and much clearer guidance on expectations. We know that some practitioners remain cautious about changing their practice ‘just in case’ and that perpetuates a culture that drives the workload problem. Ofsted's ongoing myth-busting efforts around the education inspection framework have helped but this can't replace the need for accessible, formal training that supports practitioners to understand the requirements of the revised EYFS and as part of this address the issues of workload, including expectations on recording and record keeping.
Dangers of a ‘tick list’
While some of the changes to the EYFS are to be welcomed, there is a concern that too many of the changes will actually impede outcomes for those children already at a disadvantage. For example, despite the desire to avoid it, there is a danger that the changes to the ELGs exacerbate the tendency towards using the framework as a tick list, and at worst not even a consistent tick list. One illustration is the proposed requirement that practitioners should measure increases in new vocabulary or the workings of handwriting, rather than seek to understand effective communication and understanding in a child. Such seemingly quantifiable measures of progress can undermine a more in-depth appreciation of each child's development.
This is related to disquiet about the ability of the reformed EYFS to deliver a level of social mobility. Many argue that too many of the goals are developmentally inappropriate, potentially leaving many children behind. There are also concerns that there is excessive reliance on overly formal mechanisms, such as a reliance on knowledge and facts gained from books and reading rather than through experiences, relationships and other important sources of knowledge. There is a danger that the existing problem of the ELGs for literacy and maths being set to high will be exacerbated with profound implications for the development of children who are summer-born, have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), have English as an additional language (EAL) and/or have other disadvantages. A love of books and stories should be open to every child and each child must have the chance to develop that love in a fitting way for them.
The prospect of disadvantaged children being left behind by the new reformed EYFS is alarming because we know that some of the most vulnerable children in society are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of diminished support and resources, and potentially, an early years education system that fails to understand them.
Improving social mobility
Improving social mobility and life chances for all requires investment in early years services to support disadvantaged children. However, this must also be aligned with strong efforts to reduce family poverty, improve home learning environments and provide effective support to parents who experience mental health, economic and/or other difficulties. Improvements in those areas, as well as high-quality delivery of childcare, including the proper resources of current entitlements, should be at the heart of life chances for all children, regardless of their background.
Training is vital
There has been an 84 per cent decline in people taking up training to become early years teachers since 2013/14 (Save the Children, 2019). To achieve the high-quality delivery of childcare and education that is needed, there is a necessity to recruit, retain and properly reward qualified and committed practitioners. In specific relation to the EYFS, it is also critical that those early years practitioners are given support and training to navigate and effectively deliver the changes. It is vital that this is properly resourced. Furthermore, many early years practitioners currently access the ELGs through non-statutory guidance such as Development Matters, so this document, and any aligned training, must be revised in line with the changes to the ELGs in a form that is applicable and usable for all.
Find out more about the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) at pacey.org.uk