Nursery Management

EYFS Reforms – What you need to know

  • EYFS Reforms – What you need to know

Beatrice Merrick takes you through the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Reforms and what it will mean for your setting…

From September 2021, there will be changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), applicable to all early years providers from birth to five.

For all childminders and PVIs and many schools there’s no need to worry: you have a year until the changes become statutory, so you have plenty of time to get to grips with the changes.

However, schools were given the option to be early adopters from September 2020 before Covid-19 hit, and despite having since been given the option to opt out again to focus on supporting children’s return in the autumn, some may still be planning to go ahead with early adoption.

If you work in a school make sure you know whether or not it is an early adopter.

What stays the same?

The EYFS is a well-respected framework around the world, and a survey of practitioners we carried out in 2019 confirmed that practitioners did not think it needed much in the way of reform.

So it’s good news that the overall structure of the EYFS will remain the same. Key components that remain include:

  • The overarching principles, often expressed as a formula: the unique child + positive relationships + enabling environments = learning and development.
  • The seven areas of learning and development.
  • The distinction between prime and specific areas.
  • The characteristics of effective teaching and learning (COETL).

The safeguarding and welfare requirements also stay the same, apart from a small amendment to add a duty to promote good oral health.

But not quite the same

Much remains the same, but there are changes and the devil is in the detail.

For instance, the COETL are weakened in the new framework. The current framework says: “In planning and guiding children’s activities, practitioners must reflect on the different ways that children learn and reflect these in their practice” and then sets out the three characteristics.

The new framework says: “In planning and guiding children’s activities, practitioners must reflect on the different rates at which children are developing and adjust their practice appropriately.”

This is muddled, as the COETL are about how children learn, not how quickly.

Moreover, the requirement to report on the COETL in the EYFS Profile has been watered down to a choice instead of a requirement.

Recent research emphasises the importance of the COETL for children’s future learning so if anything they should have had a greater emphasis.

The COETL should remain a key focus for your observations, so adding a comment in the Profile should not be time-consuming, meaning there is no need to discontinue this important practice.

In the new framework, the explanation of the relationship between the prime and specific areas is not as clear as before.

The current framework says: “Practitioners working with the youngest children are expected to focus strongly on the three prime areas, which are the basis for successful learning in the other four specific areas”.

In the new framework this changes to “Practitioners working with the youngest children are expected to ensure a strong foundation for children’s development in the three prime areas. The specific areas of learning provide children with a broad curriculum and with opportunities to strengthen and apply the prime areas of learning.”

But don’t be confused: it’s still the case that the prime areas matter because they are foundational for the other areas of learning, and moreover are particularly time-sensitive in terms of children’s development.

The wording may have changed, but child development has not.

What has changed?

The most extensive changes in the new framework are the Educational Programmes and the Early Learning Goals (ELGs). These have been entirely re-written.

Key changes to the ELGs include:

  • Communication and Language (C&L) “Listening and attention” has become “Listening, attention and understanding” and the separate “Understanding” ELG has gone. “Speaking” (and several other ELGs) refer multiple times to “recently-introduced vocabulary”, which is an unhelpfully ambiguous term despite the DfE’s aspiration that these ELGs should be clearer than the previous ones.
  • 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 widely understood. The ELG on Building Relationships also includes an inappropriate requirement for children to “Form positive attachments to adults and friendships with peers”, despite the evidence that attachment is dependent on a range of factors which children cannot control, and particularly the behaviour of the adults around them.
  • Literacy splits the ELG for Reading into an ELG for Comprehension and one for Word Reading (ie decoding). Splitting comprehension and decoding is not helpful, and the ELGs are based on contested and restrictive approaches which focus on phonics only.
  • Mathematics has controversially lost Shape, Space and Measure as an ELG although after extensive pressure from the sector it was restored to the Educational Programme. The ELGs are now “Number” and “Numerical Patterns”. The focus on a deep understanding of numbers to ten has been widely welcomed, but the inclusion of automatic recall of number bonds and double facts is not supported by any research relating to children of this age. The numerical pattern ELG is too narrow, meaning that broader understanding of pattern making as well as shape, space and measure may be seen as less important, despite the extensive evidence about the importance of spatial thinking.
  • Understanding the World loses all its current ELGs, and technology disappears entirely from the framework despite the importance of STEM subjects. The new “Past and Present”, “Culture and Communities” and “Natural World” ELGs inappropriately mirror a Year 1 split of History, Geography and Science and suggest children should be learning primarily from books instead of first-hand experiences, in decontextualised ways which are inappropriate for children of this age.
  • Expressive Art and Design changes from “Exploring and using media and materials” to “Creating with materials”, focusing more on product than process. “Being imaginative” becomes “Being imaginative and expressive” but unfortunately focuses more on passive consumption of cultural experiences, rather than prioritising exploration and creativity, which are key for young children.

Next steps

New non-statutory guidance and exemplification materials will be published in due course (see box), so there will be plenty more to digest. So we hope schools don’t rush into early adoption, especially given other current challenges. Let’s all give ourselves time between now and September 2021 to get to grips with the changes and make sure that we keep focusing on what is best for our children.

Key facts about the EYFS reforms

  • A revised EYFS Framework will become statutory from September 2021. The Framework is likely to be virtually identical to the early adopters EYFS framework – see link below.
  • Infant and primary schools could choose to become Early Adopters from September 2020.
  • Early Adopters are exempted from the current Statutory Framework and instead use the Early Adopters EYFS Framework and Early Adopters EYFS Profile Handbook.

Beatrice Merrick is chief executive of Early Education, a national early years membership association providing professional learning and support for the early years sector. Find out more at