We could have a new or revised EYFS that promoted social justice, compassion and equality and that recognised the power of children as active, creative learners. Alas we will not get that in what we are being offered.
Eight reasons why the "reformed" EYFS statutory framework is unfit for purpose
1. The "reforms" lack legitimacy. They are being imposed: co-production and ownership have been denied. DfE claimed a mandate to reform the EYFS based on the 2017 Primary Assessment Consultation. Nobody responding to that consultation, which included questions on the EYFS Profile and Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), asked DfE to change all the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) or re-write all the educational programmes for children from birth to five; but the government went ahead anyway.
2. DfE started these "reforms" from the summative assessment at the end of EYFS rather than from development pathways from birth informed by the EYFS principles and relevant research. The end of key stage assessment tail is wagging the holistic curriculum dog!
3. There are problems with every area of learning and development which early years experts, organisations and practitioners have pointed out in detail to DfE during the process. Their contributions have been ignored because the main aim was to make the ELGs align with Year 1 not to improve provision for all young children.
4. DfE ignored repeated calls to strengthen the place of the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning, and, instead, responded by removing the statutory requirement for reception teachers to comment on them.
5. The Early Years Coalition of sector organisations has been ignored. The Early Years Coalition came together to try and help as well as influence the process. It commissioned a review of the research literature and carried out a survey of practitioners to which over 3000 people responded. Both reports were shared with the sector and with government. Practitioners were clear that the EYFS did not need extensive reform. The review ‘Getting it Right in the EYFS’ confirmed the interrelated nature of the seven areas of learning and found no evidence that literacy and numeracy should be prioritised over other areas. It recommended some work on the Characteristics and Communication and Language to support children at risk of delay. Sadly, there is little evidence that any of this was taken into account.
6. Trialling was inadequate The new educational programmes cover birth to five yet have never been trialled in private, voluntary and independent settings. The new ELGs were trialled in just 24 school reception classes.
7. DfE has been selective in using feedback from the Education Endowment Fund evaluation of the reception class trial. The evaluation found no evidence that children’s needs were better met or identified earlier, nor that children were assessed more accurately. Introducing a new framework is bound to increase workload. Given DfE’s explicit aims to improve outcomes for all children and to reduce workload that looks like a failure on both counts.
8. The new "good level of development" (GLD) will be even harder for many children to attain. The current GLD already perpetuates a deficit model which sees children (particularly poor children, those from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, those with special educational needs and disabilities and summer born children) as somehow lacking or deficient
Two reasons why we should review the EYFS.
1. It is nine years since the Tickell review and the EYFS can undoubtedly be improved in the light of recent research.
2. The world has changed. The climate crisis is real and affecting all our lives and we are living with a global pandemic. Many schools and settings have learned a lot during lockdown about their children and families’ cultural capital. As a result their learning communities and their relationships have been strengthened. They have had time to reflect on what really matters in early years and are continuing to learn more during the transition and recovery process. This learning should feed into a new EYFS which should also include education for sustainability. During the pandemic we have seen that people with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic heritage are more likely to die as a result of contracting the virus than white people. We have seen the whole world supporting Black Lives Matter. It is way past time for policy makers to start listening rather than closing their ears and imposing old models. We all need to question those old models, listen carefully and work for planet- and people-friendly care and education with those who have been failed, diminished and othered by our present system.
Helen Moylett and Nancy Stewart are Early Education Associates and Helen is a Vice-President of Early Education