Dame Clare Tickell is today recommending that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is radically slimmed down to make it easier to understand, less burdensome and more focused on making sure children start school ready to learn.

Setting out her recommendations, Dame Clare says that while parents and early years professionals agree that the EYFS has had a positive impact on children’s outcomes and helped to raise standards, in its current form there is far too much time spent filling in forms and not enough interacting with children. She says the EYFS needs to be simplified and made even more accessible for parents and practitioners.

The current EYFS has 6 areas of learning and 69 learning goals. These goals are used to monitor children’s progress while they are in pre-school. At the age of 5 they are assessed against these goals, on a 117 point scale, as part of the EYFS profile.

To reform the current framework and make it less bureaucratic, Dame Clare’s recommendations include:

  • Significantly reducing the number of early learning goals children are assessed against at age five from 69 to 17.
  • Parents to get a summary of their child’s development, alongside the health visitor check at age two, to help identify any early problems or special educational needs.
  • A new focus on three prime areas which are the foundations for children’s ability to learn and develop healthily: personal, social and emotional development; communication and language; and physical development.
  • Beneath these should be four areas of learning where these skills are applied: literacy, mathematics, expressive arts and design and understanding the world.
  • With the three new prime areas of learning, a greater emphasis on making sure children have the basic social, emotional communication and language skills they need to learn and thrive at school – things like being able to make friends and listen effectively. There should also be a stronger link between the EYFS and what is expected of children in KS1.
  • Freeing the workforce from unnecessary bureaucracy so they can spend more time interacting with children – including scrapping written risk assessments for nursery trips and outings.
  • All early years practitioners to have at least a level 3 qualification (which is equivalent to A level) and the Government should consider applying the ‘teaching schools’ model to the early years.
  • Ofsted should be clearer on what is required of settings when they are inspected to help reduce high levels of paperwork.
  • Independent schools should be allowed to apply to opt out of the learning and development part of the EYFS, and the exemptions process should be made easier.

Dame Clare Tickell said:

The earliest years in a child’s life are absolutely critical. Next to a loving and stable home environment, high quality early years education is one of the most important factors in a child’s development. It’s clear that the current EYFS has helped to improve outcomes and is popular with parents and professionals who welcome a framework that lets them know how children are developing. 

But it’s far from perfect. The current EYFS is cumbersome, repetitive and unnecessarily bureaucratic. And it isn’t doing enough to engage parents in their child’s development or make sure children are starting school with the basic skills they need to be ready to learn.

My recommendations will help give those professionals more freedom and are designed to make the entire system work better for children, professionals and parents. I hope my review leads to a slimmer, more resilient EYFS, that makes sure every child has the best possible start in life.

Responding to Dame Clare’s report, Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said:

The importance of the early years – as a foundation for life and for future attainment and success – cannot be over estimated. That’s why it’s vital we have the right framework to support high quality early years education.

I am pleased that Clare has focused on what really matters - making sure a child is able to start school ready to learn, able to make friends and play, ready to ask for what they need and say what they think. These are critical foundations for really getting the best out of school.

I’m also pleased that Clare has responded to the concerns we have all heard about the level of paperwork. Parents just want to know in a clear and frank way what their children are learning. I am hugely grateful to Clare and look forward to reading her review in detail.

To help improve the experience of professionals working with children, Dame Clare has looked at the confusion that exists around the level of paperwork providers need to keep for Ofsted inspections. In the call for evidence, some practitioners felt there was sometimes too much focus on the inspection of forms and not enough on children’s experiences.

To tackle this Dame Clare has recommended that Ofsted and local authorities work more closely together to provide consistent information on inspection. She will also recommend they avoid creating extra burdens by asking early years providers to keep paperwork that isn’t required. 

As part of her review, Dame Clare has consulted extensively with parents, nursery and early years practitioners, teachers and the voluntary and community sector. These views are collected in an Evidence Paper published alongside the report today.

  • When questioned on their views of the EYFS, the vast majority (72 per cent) thought the EYFS was successful. And when questioned about the value of areas of learning, 82 per cent thought they provided an effective structure for young children’s learning. 
  • When asked what was the most important thing settings could do to support a child’s learning and development, 81 per cent of respondents said support for personal, social and emotional development – one of the three areas recommended by Dame Clare as a prime area of learning.
  • But 30 per cent of those who responded to the call for overall views on EYFS felt there is too much bureaucracy and paperwork. And professionals were unclear how much paperwork they should be keeping for Ofsted inspections.
  • On the question about the EYFS profile assessment at age 5, only 28 per cent of respondents said they liked the Profile in its current form. And many think the profile reports fail to draw out the most important things that teachers want to know when a child starts school.
  • And in a survey of parents, less than half (42per cent) knew they should be given an update on their child’s development at the end of the EYFS, and only 36 per cent said they actually received it.

Jean Gross, England’s Communication Champion for children, said

I’m delighted with Dame Clare’s report. It preserves all the best of the current EYFS whilst helping us focus on making sure we get the basics – the new ‘prime’ areas of learning – right for all children. If implemented, it will mean that any difficulties children may have in their language, social and emotional or  physical development are picked up much earlier, and that agencies can work together to provide timely support.

Kate Groucutt, Policy Director at Daycare Trust, said:

Daycare Trust is pleased that Dame Tickell has listened to the views of the early years sector by maintaining the Early Years Foundation Stage as a universal framework for all providers. The EYFS was introduced less than three years ago, yet it has already delivered clear benefits to children and providers alike.

In particular we welcome the review’s emphasis on making the EYFS more accessible to parents. This must be accompanied by practical tools which support parents to play an active role in their child’s learning and development, as we know parents are so keen to do, and help them identify high quality early years services.

Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said:

We welcome Dame Clare’s review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). She and her team have done a great job in managing to take views from a wide range of sources and present a thoughtful and considered review of the EYFS without changing its core structure. 

We trust that in the light of the review the EYFS’s emphasis on learning through play will continue as this is a cornerstone of Alliance philosophy and has been embraced wholeheartedly by the early years sector.

We welcome the review’s focus on the ‘prime areas’ of physical development, emotional development and communications as these are the focus of early years provision. If young children are given the support to develop in these areas as they grow, they will be well prepared to undertake formal learning at school.

We also welcome the separation of literacy from the Communication, Language and Literacy learning area as this should ensure that no children – especially boys – are introduced to reading and writing too early, as such a move could impair their lifelong enjoyment of language and literature.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said:

NDNA welcomes how the review team has listened to a wide range of views and that the value of the EYFS in delivering for families has clearly been recognised. Overall this is an impressive report that considers all major issues. NDNA and its members were clear that radical change needed to be avoided and we are pleased that the review outlines ways that potentially the EYFS can be improved even further. NDNA very much looks forward to working with government to discuss these recommendations and what aspects should be taken forward. We will also be working closely with members to support them to respond to any potential changes and ultimately adapt their childcare practice so that they can continue to provide high-quality care and early learning that benefits children and families.

Professor Chris Pascal, OBE, Director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood, said:

This Review builds on the strong achievements of the sector in raising quality using the original EYFS framework but refocuses attention on those aspects of practice that really shape children’s future lives and frees practitioners from many of the perceived burdens they felt were preventing progress.

I particularly welcome the identification of the three ‘prime’ areas of learning as a key focus to our work in the early years and the clarification on assessment requirements and the closer involvement of parents. Also welcome is the acknowledgement of the critical importance of well trained professionals who understand children’s learning and development and see their partnership with parents as the critical element in their work. Leadership and commitment at all levels will be required to take forward the Review’s recommendations into policy and practice to ensure and safeguard the quality of services for our youngest children and families in the current challenging climate.

Nicola Amies, Director of Early Years, Europe, Bright Horizons Family Solutions, said:

Bright Horizons was proud to be invited to participate in the Tickell Review of the EYFS, representing those delivering the EYFS in the full daycare context, and we welcome many of the recommendations contained in the Expert Panel’s report.  It is evident that the Panel considered thoughtfully the views submitted by so many providers and parents, and we believe that the recommendations contained in the report will do much to improve the experiences and outcomes of children attending nurseries and visiting childminders.  For example, one of the key desires expressed by both parents and practitioners was for the streamlining of paperwork, so that staff can give more focus on what they do so well – their interactions with the children in their care.  It is passion and commitment to children's care, learning and development that draws the best people into the profession and we believe that their aspirations will be supported by the Review's proposals.

Dorian Bradley, Independent Advisor on EYFS exemptions, said:

Revising the EYFS at a time when it was still bedding down but already delivering improved outcomes for children was a difficult task. I'm delighted therefore that Clare has done so well in ironing out some difficulties while maintaining all that is good to give an even better EYFS.

Notes to editors:

1. The Government commissioned Dame Clare Tickell to carry out a review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in July 2010. The Government will respond in full to the recommendations in the summer when it will consult on changes to the EYFS. Changes will come into force from September 2012 at the earliest.

The Early Years: Foundations for life, health and learning and accompanying evidence report is available on the Tickell Review section of the website.

2. The latest statistics on the EYFS profile are available on the Research and Statistics Gateway.

3. Dame Clare Tickell is Chief Executive of Action for Children - one of the UK’s largest charities. Clare was awarded a DBE in the New Years Honours 2010 for services to young people.

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