Recently, major organisations in the Early Years sector made their response to the government’s plans to change the Early Years curriculum in the direction of formal learning.

If the government gets its way, children will be expected to spend their earliest years in classrooms where formal learning is emphasised, and where play-based learning is deprioritised. A review of academic research published by the Early Years Coalition finds no evidence to support extensive changes to the current Early Years Foundation Stage.  

The review is supported by a survey of 3000 practitioners which reveals widespread disquiet about the proposed changes: 87% of practitioners considered that the EYFS already meets children’s needs in Communication and Learning well or very well – there is no need for substantial change.

We are in the middle of a perfect storm in early childhood education. We have the new Ofsted Education Inspection, the proposed changes to the Early Learning Goals – the seven key areas of learning for Early Years children - and the review of the non-statutory Development Matters guidelines. Meanwhile the trialling of the proposed ‘baseline assessment’ rumbles on in the background. Everything is happening at once. What has caused this storm and how do we weather it?

September 16, saw the publication of an important document that analyses what is happening and sets out how we in the Early Years sector should move forward with an informed, reflective and pedagogically sound approach. 

The paper is called Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence and the authors are Chris Pascal, Tony Bertram and Liz Rouse of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood. The work has been underpinned by a coalition of representatives from Early Years Groups of which Keeping Early Years Unique – KEYU - is one. The driving force of the Early Years Coalition is the belief that the EYFS should continue to provide a framework for all Early Years providers to give children the best possible start, based on the best available evidence.  

That we have joined together to produce this document now is indicative of the concern felt across the sector. Since the publication of the Ofsted document Bold Beginnings in 2017, there has been a discernible policy trend towards a particular approach to Early Childhood Education. One that sees learning mathematics, reading and writing as the sole purpose of Reception classes.

This direction of travel has become increasingly clear.The Primary Assessment Consultation in 2017 was wrongly taken by the DfE as a mandate for a top-down review of the birth to five Early Years Foundation Stage, a review that is intended to align it with Key Stage One. Policy is moving further away from ‘getting it right’ for the youngest children. 

The Early Years Coalition was brought together with a clear mandate to respond in an informed and knowledgeable way to those making the changes. We are all agreed that it is a good to time to review the EYFS, but this must involve the knowledge and expertise of specialists in the area. 

Through a comprehensive literature review and through gathering thinking across the sector, the Coalition has produced an informed and grounded document based in theory and practice. Literacy and Maths are not ignored as they are important concepts, but they are not the be-all and end-all of children’s learning. The current proposals for change to the Early Learning Goals reflect a narrowing of thinking which does not correlate with the most up-to-date research on how the youngest children develop learning and skills. 

If this line of thinking continues to influence policy then it is going to impact on wellbeing for children and adults, for teaching, learning and teacher workload. Rather than aligning Reception with Year One, the result will be that the youngest children will struggle with concepts that they are not at a stage to grasp. Their learning will not be embedded, and there will be a lack of robust results and secure knowledge. Rather than smooth alignment, there will be increasing problems for everyone.

In this context, Getting it Right gives us a key takeaway:

The holistic nature of learning and development in the EYFS should continue to be emphasised. Care must be taken that delivery of the EYFS is not skewed towards particular areas of learning at the expense of others. The evidence clearly shows the interrelated processes of learning and development for all seven Areas of Learning and the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning. 

We hope government will make use of this research report to ensure the EYFS continues to be a world-leading framework which is respected and endorsed by the whole Early Years sector.