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Getting it right in the EYFS means looking at the evidence

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Wednesday, 11 September, 2019

Handle with care – changes to EYFS need to recognise it is a “world class framework”, new early years coalition report concludes

A review of academic research published today finds no evidence to support extensive changes to the current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework.  The report identifies where a case for change is supported by the evidence, and notes a number of gaps in what we know.

The report, produced by a coalition of 12 early years sector organisations (see below), launches this evening (16 September) at an event at King’s College London. In addition, initial findings from a survey of 3,000 early years practitioners will be presented.  These also show widespread support for the current EYFS.

The coalition recommends the government’s review of the EYFS adheres to four key principles:

  1. Recognising the central importance of the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning (playing and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically).  These have been emphasised by the growing body of research on self-regulation and executive function.
  2. Supporting the current emphasis on the Prime Areas within the EYFS (Communication and Language, Physical Development and Personal, Social and Emotional Development) as particularly crucial and time sensitive in the early years, and their foundational nature in relation to all later learning.  This includes the importance of communication and language skills as a basis for literacy, and in turn the importance of literacy in children’s long-term attainment and social and cultural life. 
  3. Acknowledging the premise that all areas of learning are interconnected, demonstrating the holistic nature of young children’s development.
  4. Acknowledging that there is no evidence to support giving mathematics and literacy greater emphasis than any other areas of learning within the EYFS.

The report argues that some of 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.

The launch will hear initial findings from a survey of 3,000 early years practitioners on their experience of the EYFS; what helps, what makes it more difficult, and what might change. 

Survey responses also suggested that excessive workload is not a result of the current EYFS framework.  Excessive paperwork has been mainly driven by the interpretation of Ofsted requirements in terms of evidencing children’s progress and attainment, and pressure from leaders, managers and local authorities to gather large amounts of data about children’s progress.

This suggests that the main challenge is to change existing culture and practice, not the framework.  Practitioners fear that changing the framework itself will generate additional workload.

Practitioners reported that closing the gap between the most- and least-advantaged children’s communication and language skills did not require changes to the EYFS.  87% of practitioners considered that the EYFS meets children’s needs in Communication and Learning well or very well.  However, they called for 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, especially in relation to the home learning environment.

Early Education Chief Executive, Beatrice Merrick, 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, the Early Years Alliance’s Director of quality improvement, 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.”

Chief Executive, National Day Nurseries Association, Purnima Tanuku said:

“The EYFS is a well-established framework which is firmly embedded within the sector to deliver high quality care and education.  It is regarded across the world as a high quality approach to early education. This is because it was built on firm foundations using a strong research base and extensive consultation with the sector.  This literature review enables us to look at positive changes to the EYFS and will provide confidence to the sector that it supports quality of education for children from birth to 5.  The survey of practitioners carried out backs up the need to engage with those at the coalface when making change.  They have the skills, knowledge and expertise and this survey demonstrates they are able to use professional judgements within a sound and robust framework.”

Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of PACEY said:

“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. As part of this coalition, PACEY will do all it can to ensure the views and experiences of practitioners are reflected in the final revisions. They are caring for these children every day and have an invaluable perspective. "

Download the research review:

Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence

Download a summary of initial headlines from the practitioner survey (full report to follow at a later date)

Download slides from the launch event: Literature review presentation and Practitioner survey presentation

Notes to editors: 


1. For further information, contact Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education (email: tel: 07712 398672).

2. The coalition members are Early Education, Early Childhood Forum (ECF), Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network (ECSDN), Early Years Alliance, Keeping Early Years Unique (KEYU), Montessori St Nicholas, National Children’s Bureau (NCB), National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), Sector Endorsed Foundation Degrees in the Early Years (SEFDEY), TACTYC: the Association for Professional Development in the Early Years and the British Early Childhood Education Research Association (BECERA).  Other bodies with observer status included unions representing early years interests from the teaching workforce and school leadership (NAHT, ASCL, NEU, NASUWT), the Teaching Schools Council and the British Association for Educational Research (BERA).

3. Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the leading independent national charity for early years practitioners and parents, campaigning for the right of all children to education of the highest quality. Founded in 1923, it has members in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provides a national voice on matters that relate to effective early childhood education and care of young children from birth to eight. The organisation supports the professional development of practitioners through publications, training, conferences, seminars and access to a national and regional branch network. For more information on the work of Early Education visit