Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, has commented on the announcement of a Department for Education pilot intended to “boost early language skills” from September.

“The National Education Union has long been concerned about the amount of work required of reception class teachers in order to complete the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP). The evidence is clear that knowledgeable professionals observing children in their daily activities is the best way to assess what five year olds know and can do. But the amount of work that is imposed on teachers to record and collect evidence for those judgements is too great and in most cases of very little value. So we are pleased that the DfE has begun to think about ways of lessening this workload.

“We still have concerns about some of the changes proposed to the early learning goals. Although we welcome the focus on play and a balance of child-and teacher-led activities, the importance of imagination and wonder in children's learning mustn't be lost. Government needs to be less secretive about the group of experts and providers it has engaged to develop these goals, and must be careful not to read this important and wide-ranging document through the lens of its own preoccupations with phonics and the highly contested notion of a ‘word gap’.

“However, we welcome this new approach to developing policy through consulting and openly trialling proposed changes. We hope that by engaging EEF and Action for Children to run and evaluate the pilot, we can learn real things about the goals themselves as well as ways in which the assessments are conducted, evidenced and reported. We look forward to the findings of the research being disseminated and discussed widely. With new baseline assessment also being developed for reception classes during the same period, the impact of all these changes will be great, and Government needs to think carefully about how they will promote early years teaching as a highly valued and expert profession. DfE needs to be brave in sharing lessons about the impacts of the testing, audit and compliance culture on reception class practice.”