Our Reception team have got used to the foundation stage – why is it all changing again?
The review says: “The EYFS has been successful in its intention of ensuring that children received the same support, regardless of the type of early years care they received. That said, there are clear instances of repetition which contribute to the frustrations expressed by many that the EYFS can be both burdensome and cumbersome. It is unsurprising that these frustrations should be articulated now, as many practitioners can navigate their way around the EYFS with increasing confidence, and with an empirical understanding of what adds value to their work with children. I have noted this and responded to it by suggesting ways that the areas of development and early learning goals can be presented more simply and effectively.”
So will the approach change in Reception?
Dame Clare says: “I am clear that reception class should remain part of the EYFS – children in reception class are still very young, some only just 4-years-old, and there should continue to be a strong focus on supporting their development in the prime as well as the specific areas through play-based approaches. However, I think that children’s experiences in reception class should help prepare them for the move to Year 1, both in terms of the level of development most children should have reached, and in the knowledge that most children would be expected to have.
Skilled teachers and practitioners should be attuned to each child’s level of development, to their pace of learning, and to their abilities and interests – and should determine the most effective approach to interacting with children to guide their development. Therefore, I recommend that the EYFS requirement relating to delivery through play is clarified, including emphasising that this does not preclude more adult direction or teaching, and by setting out what playful adult-directed learning looks like.”
I’ve heard the assessment regime is going to be simplified -- how?
Dame Clare says the early learning goals, describing what most children should be able to do by the end of Reception, need to be simplified from the current 69 early learning goals and 117 scale points.
As a result goals which are not easily observed, sufficiently different or unique to five-year-olds have been recommended for removal. “It is possible to reduce the number of early learning goals from 69 to 17, while still reflecting the full range of children’s learning and development,” she says.
Additionally, Dame Clare says feedback on the goals suggested they were less appropriate for summer-borns or children who needed more stretching activities, and that there was a disconnect between these and KS1 levels which caused problems in supporting children’s continuing development. “Therefore, I recommend that for each early learning goal a simple scale is established. This should define what emerging, expecting and exceeding means for each early learning goal. I also recommend that the level of exceeding the early learning goals is set to be consistent with expectations in the current National Curriculum, and evolves in a way that is consistent with expectations to be set out in the new National Curriculum Programmes of Study for Key Stage 1 in the relevant subjects. In this way, I believe that teachers will be better able to support very young children, gifted and talented children or children with additional needs, and that Year 1 teachers will see more clearly how the learning and development requirements in the early years fit with the National Curriculum.”
What are the proposed new Early Learning Goals?
Tickell breaks these down into three prime areas, which are:
Personal, social and emotional development: self confidence and self-awareness, managing feelings and behaviour, and making relationships.
Physical Development: moving and handling and health and self-care.
Communication and Language: listening and attention, understanding, and speaking.
In addition, there are a further four specific areas in which the prime skills are applied. These are
“All the existing content is covered by this new model, with areas of learning now described in clear and unambiguous terms by titles which are as simple as possible. Practitioners working with the youngest children should focus on the prime areas, but also recognise that the foundations of all areas of learning are laid from birth – for example literacy in the very early sharing of books, and mathematics through early experiences of quantity and spatial relationships.
“I therefore recommend that playing and exploring, active learning, and creating and thinking critically, are highlighted in the EYFS as three characteristics of effective teaching and learning, describing how children learn across a wide range of activities.”
What will the Profile look like?
Slimmed-down, more manageable, based on the proposed 17 new learning goals and with clearer links to the National Curriculum.
Teachers would have to report on 20 items of information from each child, rather than the current 117 scale points. On the early learning goals, the teacher would report whether “at the end of the reception year, each child’s learning and development is ‘emerging’, ‘expected’, or ‘exceeding’ against the descriptors for each goal” using a “best fit approach” as with Key Stage 1. This would build on the 24 – 36 months early years summary to help identify children who may have special educational needs, and also those children who are gifted and talented in particular areas.
The three additional items not covered by the learning goals come under the category of learning characteristics – how children learn by playing and exploring, through active learning, and by creating and thinking creatively. These involve noting such things as children’s ability to keep on trying and having their own ideas.
Was there debate about keeping the profile?
Dame Clare says there are strong views on both sides and it is clear the existing profile is more detailed and complex. “More could be done to maximise the value of the information, particularly to Year 1 teachers. Many have spoken to me about the burdens they feel have been introduced by this assessment, through paperwork and through moderation and inspection processes….An improved framework for assessment at the end of the EYFS would ensure consistency of practice between different settings, and therefore consistency of experience for children – in terms of the support they receive while in early years settings, and the information shared with parents and carers to help them understand how their child is doing. If successful, it should also help to make the transition between the early years and Key Stage 1 as smooth and effective as possible.”
In addition, Dame Clare suggests the assessment would allow local and national data to be collected on the readiness of children to begin formal schooling at 5.
“Given the crucial importance of the early years, and the gaps already apparent at this age between different groups of children – for example between boys and girls, or between children from different ethnic backgrounds – it is essential we know how young children are getting on, and whether the support they are receiving is successful,” the review says. The assessment could also be used as a baseline for children’s subsequent development but should not be used for school-level accountability.
Is it true that the review recommends less emphasis on recording children’s progress?
“Paperwork should not dominate, and my recommendations propose slimming down certain areas of the existing framework to provide flexibility for providers to spend more time where it counts – working directly with children, and supporting parents and carers.
“It is the interaction between practitioners and children that helps promote the rich learning environment the EYFS is seeking to create. This cannot be achieved if practitioners are making notes, instead of talking and playing with children. It is also clear to me that Ofsted and local authorities should not be asking to see overly detailed records, but rather talking directly to practitioners about their methods for checking children’s progress.
“I recommend that the EYFS explicitly states that paperwork should be kept to the absolute minimum required to promote children’s successful learning and development.”
Will the foundation stage still be about preparing children for school?
Dame Clare says some people interpret “school readiness” as implying children could be pressured to read and write at inappropriately young ages, while others feel it does children no favours to be unprepared for school.
“To avoid the more ambiguous and emotive connotations of ‘school readiness’, I have considered it from the perspective of its opposite: school unreadiness. I have found this a helpful way of thinking through the problem and finding a way forward. Most children begin reception class at age 4, and for most parents and carers this is when school life begins. If children are not ready for this transition or the move to Year 1 because, for example, they are not yet toilet trained, able to listen or get on with other children, then their experiences of school could present difficulties which will obstruct their own learning as well as other children’s. The evidence is clear that children who are behind in their development at age 5 are much more likely than their peers to be behind still at age 7, and this can lead to sustained but avoidable underachievement.”
What about play and teaching?
The review supports the EYFS focus on play as the route through which the areas of learning should be delivered, but Dame Clare says there has been “confusion” about what learning through play actually means and the implications of this for adults.
“I understand some providers have been advised that any element of adult direction or teaching would contravene the requirements of the EYFS. I am clear this is not the case, and indeed believe that it is not possible to separate out child-initiated from adult-guided or directed learning.” The review says sometimes adults will initiate and sometimes children, adding: “Throughout the early years, adults should be modelling, demonstrating and questioning. To exclude elements of teaching from the early years would increase the risk of children not being ready for the move to Key Stage 1.”
What about the size of reception classes?
The report says there were strong feelings about the 1:30 ratio for reception classes, but informal feedback suggested that it was not often used in practice because of the use of teaching assistants. There was no clear picture of what was happening in schools which made it difficult to conclude whether or not the ratio should be changed, although there was evidence showing the advantages of smaller class sizes. However, she said the move to a 15 hour pre-school entitlement and a single Reception starting point would put more pressure on classes as younger children entered with less experience of early years care. “This heightens the need to ensure that the 1 to 30 ratio is appropriate and I recommend that the Government research as a matter of importance the ratios currently used in reception classes. This should include the use of support staff and identifying and sustaining current good practice if needed.”
Will certain providers be able to opt out of the Foundation stage?
Dame Clare says a framework applying to everyone provides consistency and continuity for children, and that to remove it would adversely affect the life chances of children. Allowing opt-outs for providers not getting public funding might encourage some to move to a low cost service with lower standards, which would be more likely in areas of deprivation. However, Dame Clare says the exemption process could be widened in circumstances where a professional organisation representing groups of independent schools could show support from parents and that there would be continued delivery of high quality early years provision. Most applications had been from Steiner-Waldorf schools, and she recommended that the Government exempt all such settings from the early learning goals.
Parents find it hard to understand the current EYFS guidelines – will that change?
Dame Clare says that not only is she concerned to improve the flexibility of the foundation stage, but also with improving its accessibility and clarity so parents and carers can be in “closer discussion” with professionals. “Recognising that there will be less support in the future to help early years providers improve, the EYFS must be redrafted in such a way that the framework is easy to access, understand and navigate, incorporating what is known about how young children learn and develop and highlighting the importance of protecting their welfare. I recommend that any revised EYFS and guidance for inspectors are both subject to a plain English review, and should seek to be awarded the plain English crystal mark.”
What difference will a universal check at 2 make to a child’s progress?
The review recommends the Government test the feasibility of a single integrated child review at 2-2.5 years. Dame Clare suggests this would be a signpost focusing on where extra help might be needed, or where children might excel. This would help earlier intervention to reduce the number of children who are “school unready”. It would help to spot potential special educational needs (as recommended in the recent Green Paper) as well as children who might be gifted and talented.