In January 2020, before the consultation on the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) had even closed, the DfE invited infant and primary schools to express an interest in being “early adopters” of the new framework in September 2020 a year before it becomes statutory. They were given until 7 February (a week after the consultation closed) to do so. Now, in July 2020, along with the publication of the government response to the EYFS reforms consultation, in view of the massive disruption caused by COVID-19 schools are being given the option to opt out of early adoption.
To help you, your governors and foundation stage staff review the arguments, we’ve set out our view of the pros and cons of early adoption below.
That was then, this is now
DfE’s invitation said:
We would like to invite you to participate at this early stage so that you have the necessary time to consider and prepare for early adoption, and so that the government can be ready to support early adopters once final policy decisions have been made.
… Early adopter schools will be expected to commit to participation for the full duration of the 2020/21 academic year, unless there is a significant reason for withdrawal.
That may have seemed sensible in January. Six months later, as you work through the extraordinary challenges of how to bring all their children back in the autumn, with or without social distancing, and with as yet unspecified plans for “catch-up” or recovery, engaging with the EYFS reforms is probably not such a high priority.
Schools were originally asked to sign up before the final framework was published. Now the response to the consultation and the framework for early adopters are available, so your decision can be better informed. Although we were promised “evolution not revolution” there has been a complete rewrite of both the Educational Programmes and the Early Learning Goals. Should it be a priority for reception teachers to be poring over this and trying to work out which changes of wording require a change of practice and which are cosmetic, or should their priority be to support the wellbeing and settling in of children who have been through an unprecedented period of disruption to their learning? Changing the curriculum to support children who have missed many months of learning might be easier within a familiar framework. The EYFS reforms may be a great opportunity to review the school’s EYFS curriculum, but there is no need to rush into that now.
One of the conditions DfE have set for early adopters, was to commit to following through for the full 2020-21 year. You might wonder whether that is appropriate and whether you want to commit to that, given the uncertainties of how you may find the framework in practice impacts on children’s learning or staff workload and in the context of the wider uncertainties of COVID-19.
Workload for reception teachers
Despite government’s stated intention that the EYFS reforms should reduce workload, no aspect the new framework intrinsically reduces workload compared to the current version. The excess data collection for the EYFSP which takes place in some schools has never been supported by the EYFS Statutory Framework or the EYFSP handbook, and in most cases result from myths about what Ofsted, LA moderators or school leaders want or might expect to see. As a headteacher, you can reduce workload now by changing and challenging any excess data collection, without implementing the early adoption year or the new EYFS.
Government has finally announced that Reception Baseline Assessment will not be mandatory in September 2020, but have offered the option of “early adoption” of that too. Any decision about early adoption of either or both of these reforms needs to consider what the impact will be on children if Reception teachers are overloaded with new initiatives this autumn.
Is this a chance to get “ahead of the game”?
We’re all in favour of play in the early years (a word which seems to be distinctly scarce in the new EYFS), but this isn’t a game. As a headteacher, all too often you are forced to make difficult choices between performing well against accountability measures and doing what is in the best interests of children in the school.
The early implementation year will be an opportunity for your school to begin to embed new EYFS learning and development requirements and strengthen practice a year ahead of statutory implementation.
What benefit will you get from adopting the new framework a year early? Most early years experts do not think the new framework will strengthen practice in the EYFS – quite the opposite. The revisions to the EYFS have been criticised by experts in the field of early childhood education including unions, early years sector membership bodies, local authority early years leads, experts and researchers. A summary of concerns is included as an appendix below. For more detail see our summary of research evidence, a report of a survey of practitioners and a detailed commentary at www.early-education.org.uk/getting_it_right_in_the_eyfs.
The DfE is aiming to get most of the necessary documentation published by summer 2020, but the exemplification materials are not expected to be ready until Spring 2021, halfway through the early adoption year. The curriculum guidance may not be available until autumn 2020. As the invitation to early adopters set out:
…Please note that early adopters with nursery provision will be required to implement the revised EYFS statutory framework in all classes, including in the reception year.
As the DfE make clear, this is not simply about revising the Early Learning Goals at the end of Reception, but also considering any changes to the EYFS curriculum that you feel the new framework requires. Is there any reason to rush into this, or is it better to have more time to plan the changes, possibly in partnership with feeder settings which will also be impacted by the changes?
It is unclear what degree of training or other support will be available to early adopters. Have you discussed with your Foundation Stage staff whether they feel sufficient information and support will be available within the time between now and September 2020 to allow them to implement the revised framework in nursery (if applicable) as well as reception, and whether it is compatible with all the other pressures they are currently facing?
Will children do better under the new framework?
There is no evidence that the new Early Learning Goals (ELGs) and Educational Programmes will improve children’s outcomes.
Many are concerned that the gap between children able to reach a Good Level of Development at the end of Reception and those who can’t will increase due to the changes in the ELGs that do not take account of children’s differing rates of development at the end of Reception. Do you want to introduce an assessment which arbitrarily says that more of your children are failing to meet an “expected” standard which sets up a significant portion of children to “fail”? Needless to say, if the achievement gap widens, those most likely to be affected are those groups of children who are already falling behind: summer-born children, boys, children with SEND, children with EAL, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. How does this help them?
The evaluation of the pilot casts doubt on the merits of the reforms to the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) when it concluded that:
The evaluation found no evidence that:
- children’s needs were identified earlier;
- that children’s needs were better met; or
- that children were assessed more accurately.
Is this a chance to influence the new framework?
The DfE also said in their invitation to schools
There will also be opportunities to provide feedback on implementation of the revised requirements.
DfE have been selective in which elements of the evaluation of the pilot they have taken on board –few of the points raised in the evaluation were addressed. The consultation resulted in few further changes to the ELGs. The decision to make moderation of the EYFSP non-statutory was made despite the majority of consultation responses being in favour of retaining its statutory status. This should give some idea of whether feedback from the sector will be taken on board and gives no encouragement towards being an early adopter.
What about our EYFSP data?
In any year where there is a change in assessments there is a discontinuity in the data from one year to the next. By introducing an optional early adoption year, there will be two years of discontinuity. That may not matter to you as an individual school, if for you the data is mainly – as it should be – focused on the outcomes and transitions of individual children. Ofsted are moving their attention away from data towards delivery of the curriculum, so in principle it should not matter which version of the EYFSP you are using.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that if mass early adoption goes ahead, for two years rather than one there will be no comparable regional or national data on EYFSP outcomes. The government originally planned to abolish the EYFSP when they introduced the reception baseline assessment but responded to pressure from the sector and other government departments to keep it as it is the only, and much valued, national dataset about children’s development at age 5. Policy makers from education to public health will have one less tool at their disposal to monitor the impact of policies on young children during this period.
What should I do now?
We hope that the sector will not feel pressured into early adoption of the revised EYFS when the focus should be on supporting children through the COVID-19 crisis. If you want further support and advice from Early Education, you can sign up for free for our updates at www.early-education.org.uk/user or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the UK’s leading expert body on early childhood education. We campaign for every child’s right to the best start in life. We also provide professional learning and support for anyone with a professional interest in the early years working in schools, early years settings, local authorities, universities and colleges. www.early-education.org.uk
Appendix: Briefing: Proposed changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
Government has just published its response to a consultation on revisions to the EYFS. Initially presented as a review of the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) only, the proposed changes are far more extensive. The EYFS was last extensively revised in 2011 so a further review is timely, but it would have been more sensible to have started by reviewing the curriculum and then changing the assessment at the end of the phase, rather than vice versa.
Examples of the changes to the curriculum which result from the changes are:
- Reporting on the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning is now an optional part of the EYFS Profile rather than being mandatory, downgrading the importance of this fundamental aspect of children’s learning
- Shape, Space and Measure has been removed from Mathematics and Technology from Understanding the World ELGs, and the latter also from the Educational Programmes (statements in the Statutory Framework which set out what children should learn in the EYFS). This is concerning given their central place in supporting children’s STEM knowledge and understanding.
- Revisions to the Communication and Language (C&L) Area of Learning and ELG including removing Understanding which is the foundation for C&L despite the extensive research evidence about how young children learn language. A focus on learning vocabulary which assumes this is a cause of improved C&L rather than understanding that it is an only a superficial indicator.
- Physical Development is reduced to only fine and gross motor skills, with self-care confusingly removed to Personal, Social and Emotional Development, and no mention of proprioception and the vestibular system which are key to cognitive and emotional, as well as physical, development
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development includes a problematic attempt to include Executive Function which, while important, is a complex concept not well captured in the proposal and not well understood by practitioners.
- ELGs for Expressive Art and Design which focus more on passive consumption of cultural experiences, rather than prioritising exploration and creativity, which key for young children.
- ELGs for Understanding the World which suggest children should be learning primarily from books instead of first-hand experiences, which gives the wrong emphasis for children of this age.
All of these reflect the lack of involvement from early years experts, practitioners and teachers in the process of reviewing and redrafting the document.
We support the Minister’s stated aim that the changes to the EYFS should reduce workload. Unfortunately, the changesare unlikely to do this.
- The minister suggests that workload can be reduced by clearer advice that practitioners should not collect excessive amounts of data, and that their professional judgement can be relied on in making assessments of children’s learning and development. This is welcome but this will be brought about by changes to guidance and improvements to the moderation process, not by changes to the ELGs or the removal of moderation.
- The wholesale changes to the ELGs and the descriptions of what educational programmes should cover for each Area of Learning will involve a considerable workload for practitioners across the EYFS in familiarising themselves with the new versions. We support changes where they improve on the current version, but not for the sake of change, as this creates unnecessary work.
- The wording of the new ELGs will add to workload in some cases through the excessively specific nature of the wording (e.g. “Say a sound for each letter in the alphabet and at least 10 digraphs” could require a tick list of 36 items, for just one sub-section of an ELG) and in others through being too vague (e.g. what does “Demonstrate strength, balance and coordination” entail?)
The changes also raise some questions about the capacity of the workforce to deliver the changes. If some of the ELGs are removed (e.g. Shape, Space and Measure) while government still expect that these aspects will be covered, they are making a questionable assumption that new practitioners will have the knowledge and the confidence to do this. There are dwindling numbers of graduate leaders in settings to address issues of quality and support their colleagues.
The new ELGs were announced as helping “to address the problem of children arriving at school struggling with language and social skills”. However, the revised ELGs will not improve children’s communication and language, nor practitioners’ understanding of how to support this.
- The new version puts increased emphasis on Literacy by increasing the number of Literacy ELGs, at the expense of Communication and Language.
- The draft Area of Learning and ELG in their current form fail to reflect the key role of attention and understanding in the development of C&L, and instead have put understanding in Literacy and attention in Personal, Social & Emotional Development.
The government’s commitment to social mobility and to closing the achievement gap will not be helped by the new draft ELGs, which will exacerbate the current problem of ELGs for literacy and maths being set too high. Unrealistic ELGs will not close the achievement gap but will set up more children to fail. This will impact most on the children who are summer born, have EAL or SEND, boys and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The best way to close the achievement gap is to ensure the ELGs support those aspects of EYFS pedagogy which best ensure children’s future success: including, and especially, the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning.
The bulleted format of the new ELGs will encourage a tick-list approach, instead of the best-fit model which was (and the document states is still) the intended approach, and which is necessary to adhere to the statutory principles of assessment contained in the EYFS. The best-fit model is based on the principle, to which the new framework gives welcome recognition, of teachers making professionally informed judgements about children’s progress.
An extensive coalition of early years organisations came together to present a united voice on these issues, and to ensure government had every opportunity for drawing on the sector’s extensive knowledge and understanding of young children’s learning and development. The evidence they collated is available for free and can help teachers and practitioners take an informed approach to the new EYFS framework.