Early years sector positive about review that finds ‘no substantiated case’ for extensive changes to the EYFS

Olivia Rook
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A report based on the findings of the literature review was launched at an event at King’s College, London last night.

‘This is a significant report which needs to be taken seriously by government,' said Michael Freeston of Early Years Alliance.
‘This is a significant report which needs to be taken seriously by government,' said Michael Freeston of Early Years Alliance.

An academic review has concluded there is no evidence to support the extensive changes that have been made to the current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework.

A coalition of 12 early years sector organisations, including Early Years Alliance and Montessori St Nicholas, commissioned Professors Chris Pascal, Tony Bertram and Liz Rouse of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood to carry out the literature review, which looks at research from the last 10 years.

The Department for Education announced it was revising the EYFS last year, with pilots taking place in autumn 2018. The EYFS had last been extensively revised in 2011.

A report based on the findings of the literature review was launched at an event at King’s College, London last night.

While the evidence suggests there is no ‘substantiated case’ for the framework to be significantly changed, less advantaged children continue to underachieve. For this reason, a closer examination of recent evidence reveals that with some modifications of the EYFS, these children might be better served.

The coalition recommends the Government’s review of the EYFS recognises the importance of the characteristics of effective teaching and learning, which encompasses playing, exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically. It also recommends supporting the prime areas of learning within the EYFS, from communication and language, to physical development and personal, social and emotional development.

The coalition suggests that all areas of learning are interconnected, and there is no evidence to indicate mathematics and literacy should be given greater emphasis than other areas of learning within the EYFS.

The report argues that some of the Government’s current plans, such as ceasing to assess children at the end of Reception on shape, space and measure and technology are not supported by the evidence, which identifies these areas as crucial for children’s future success.

Survey of 3,000 practitioners
Initial findings from a survey of 3,000 early years practitioners, looking at their experience of the EYFS – what helps, what makes it more difficult, and what might change – was also presented.

Survey responses suggested that excessive workload is not a result of the current EYFS framework; instead, interpretation of Ofsted requirements and pressure from leaders, managers and local authorities to gather large amounts of data about children’s progress were to blame.

While 87 per cent of practitioners believed the EYFS meets children’s needs in communication and learning well or very well, there was a call for more professional development for the sector, access to specialist support such as speech and language therapists, and increased resources for settings to give more staff time to work with children and their parents and carers.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said: ‘The EYFS is a world class framework that puts the child at the centre of play-based learning. It’s not perfect - but any changes need to be sensitive to what it gets right. This literature review enables us to look at the changes to the EYFS with confidence that we are judging them against the most recent evidence. 

‘The practitioner survey is a rich resource which our researchers are continuing to analyse to ensure changes to the EYFS are tested against the realities on the ground. This extensive evidence base gives government the opportunity to revisit the proposed changes to the EYFS and come up with a much-improved draft before going out to consultation with the sector.’

Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at Early Years Alliance, said: ‘This is a significant report which needs to be taken seriously by government. The findings show that the current framework is doing its job - practitioners are happy delivering it and children are getting the early education they need. That is the benchmark any changes to the EYFS need to meet and the best way for government to achieve that is ensure that proposals are informed by robust evidence before full consultation with the sector.’

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY commented: ‘It's imperative that government’s proposed changes maintain the broad curriculum that we know best supports children's early development and doesn't inadvertently lead to a top down, tick box approach to reviewing a child's progress and planning their next steps.’

Sector responses
A number of early years organisations attended the event at King’s College last night, with many taking to Twitter to show their support for the findings of the literature review.

The official account for PACEY tweeted: ‘Excited for tonight’s ‘Getting it right in the #EYFS’ such important work’

Rachel Hingston, an MA Education graduate, said: 'While there is unease within the sector the coalition of EY charities and organisations working in the interests of children and their professional/conscientious approach to working with the DfE does fill me with hope.'

Meanwhile, EYFS trainer and consultant Alison Featherbe tweeted: ‘Wow, we will be referring to this for years to come. A real turning point surely? I found it an emotional read [the report]. Very powerful, clear messages for our sector to stand on. United. #gettingitrightintheEYFS’

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