If you work in early years, you will not have failed to notice the Government is planning to update the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. The changes, which are under review following a pilot, have caused a great deal of debate.
When this was proposed in spring 2018 it was presented as just a review of the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) and the EYFS Profile, which was all part of a wider agenda to address issues around primary assessment, in particular improving children's communication and language skills, and teacher workload. These are both laudable goals but in reality, the review is far more extensive: it is a rewrite of the EYFS with both the areas of learning and characteristics of learning up for change.
Current proposed changes are significant and, once finalised, likely to lead to greater workload, as every early years practitioner will have to familiarise themselves with these new requirements. The proposed changes will also not address the workload that the EYFS Profile generates for Reception teachers; that will only happen with improved guidance and more effective moderation, as well as a re-think on the new baseline assessment.
As part of a coalition of early years organisations, PACEY has been working to persuade the Department for Education (DfE) that its suggested changes will not only add to workload but are unlikely to improve children's communication and language.
We are concerned these changes are not based on the latest available evidence of what works best for young children's education. The coalition commissioned its own independent review of the latest published research, titled ‘Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the literature’. It shows there is no evidence to support extensive changes to the current EYFS framework. It does identify where a case for change is supported, and a number of gaps in what we know.
Alongside this, the coalition asked practitioners and teachers what they felt about the current EYFS. Over 3,000 people responded, indicating widespread support for the current framework. Indeed 87 per cent of practitioners felt the EYFS meets children's needs in communication and learning well or very well. What they felt was missing was more professional development for the sector, access to specialist support such as speech and language therapists, and increased resources for settings to provide more staff time to work with children and their parents and carers.
The survey also revealed that the EYFS should not be blamed for creating excessive workload; rather, Ofsted requirements and pressure from local authorities in terms of evidencing children's progress and attainment are to blame.
So where do we go from here? The DfE remains committed to revising the EYFS and so long as Brexit and possible elections don't get in the way, a public consultation on proposed changes is due next year.
PACEY and coalition partners hope the DfE will reflect on the literature review and only propose changes based on robust evidence. There is no need for root and branch change. For example, there is no evidence that disadvantaged children need a different or more intense pedagogic approach but there is strong evidence that they, along with their more advantaged peers, would benefit from more opportunities for play, language consolidation and extension.
What is most important is that some of the Government's current proposals, such as no longer requiring practitioners to assess children at the end of Reception on shape, space and measure, and technology, are scrapped. They are simply not supported by the evidence, which demonstrates these areas as crucial for children's future success. Practitioners do not want change for the sake of change. The best way to reduce workload is by changing culture, and by helping practitioners to challenge local authority teams when unnecessary reports and data are asked for. The best way to further improve the EYFS is to follow the evidence.
PACEY is a charity that supports those working in childcare and early years. Next year, it will launch a new bite-sized digital programme, EY Smart, to help practitioners with continuing professional