Where are we with the new EYFS?

The new document

Much discussion has taken place about the new Early Years Foundation Stage and the proposed changes. In this blog, I hope to focus on the significant details regarding this statutory document, which you need to know as you begin to prepare to review it and include it in your practice and documentation over the next few months. For a more detailed exploration, join us tomorrow, Monday 12 October, at 7 pm (BST). Register here.

It is important to know that the changes will not come into effect until September 2021 – they give the Montessori community time to engage and get to know the  requirements of the revised EYFS in a timely fashion. 

Secondly as the early adopter framework indicates in its title, there may be some slight tweaks to it before it becomes the statutory requirement in September 2021. Our pandemic experience is also likely to be considered in the final version of the document. The early adopter group includes reception classes in primary schools as the key proposed changes are very much directed towards their practice, and the pilot in 2019  was conducted solely with reception classes in primary schools.  No settings in the Voluntary, Independent and Private (VIP) sector were consulted – this was one of the key criticisms of the documents prior to the consultation held during Autumn 2019.

Thirdly it is important to remember that the EYFS sets the minimum required standards, so if something is not included – such as the work with shapes and measures – it does not mean we suddenly ignore all the work we do with the dimension materials in the sensorial area. It enables us to demonstrate that we really understand children’s development by ensuring a holistic approach to their learning, using all the tool the Montessori favourable environment offers us.

Why was the review of the EYFS necessary?

The last full review was conducted by Clare Tickell in 2011 and included comprehensive consultation with the whole sector; as Montessorians we were asked for our view and Martin Bradley and I had made a presentation to the DfE and Dame Clare. The outcome of the review was significant, and the prime areas of learning were included and form the foundation of the current document.  They provide a significant focus for all the settings in the VIP sector by identifying key areas of children’s development at this crucial time of their lives.  Over the years we have become friends with the 2012 version of the EYFS document and many of you have invested in electronic recording systems which provide for  tracking of  individual children’s development and sharing of  learning with parents and carers through photographs and brief annotations. 

By the time the revised EYFS becomes a statutory requirement it will be 10 years old – so a review is timely.  Furthermore, the recent significant developments in the world such as the pandemic, environmental campaigns and the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movement  – provoke our responses and urge us to  review and reflect not only on our policies but also on our practice as demonstrated in our personal values and attitudes. We have a responsibility to introduce and promote, in a suitable manner, these important issues in our work with young children – the best way to do this is by listening, reflecting and examining our own attitudes. As Montessorians, we will look towards the key principles underpinning our Cosmic education – global citizenship, looking and caring for our planet and all its multifaceted and complex life, taking responsibility for our actions and demonstrating caring respectful attitudes of solidarity and social justice. And above all, giving children agency to change the world. It is our cosmic task to contribute to our planet the best way we can.  For me it means working sensitively and responsibly with our children, their families and colleagues – by being the best examples we can be for them.

The Government’s view remains that the review was essential for two reasons – to simplify the EYFS and to reduce the workload for practitioners – the Workforce Survey conducted by Early Education in the Autumn of 2019 demonstrates the workforce response to this view.

The challenges of the review and reasons for discontent

The key concerns about the review lie in:

  • The strong  focus on academic learning during the reception year  – rather than extending play based learning up to 6 or 7 (to the end of Key stage 1 as campaigned for by More Than a Score, Early Childhood Forum and the Montessori Community) we now have a top-down document which places enormous importance on literacy and numeracy skills in learning of all four year olds before they are developmentally ready for this approach. Keeping Early Years Unique is an online campaign joined by over 45,000 members, from all walks of the early years,  demonstrating the strong feelings our industry has about taking away play based learning from our youngest children. The academic focus in the reception year effectively divides the EYFS into two distinct parts – development and learning up to 4 and between 4-5 years of age.
  • The lack of focus on the prime areas as the foundations for all learning and development.
  • The significant omissions in areas of mathematics and knowledge of the world with much pressure on literacy skills.
  • The lack of reference to outdoor learning.

A further concern is the lack of research based evidence for the changes – this significant omission has been address by the Early Years Coalition document published with the Montessori St. Nicholas support in November 2019.  This document also identifies some of the significant omissions in the review of the Early Learning Goals – some of which have been addressed since the early consultation in late 2019, whilst other remain unchanged.

The final key point is the subsequent review of the Development Matters – a non-statutory document which has been used extensively by early years practitioners to document and guide children’s learning. Whilst the original document can be seen as the source of subsequent tick list recording systems, it also offered significant beneficial guidance for practitioners.  The revised version lacks the detail or rigour of the original, and offers a very simplistic view of children’s learning.  Work is being done by the Early Years Coalition to provide an alternative to the Government version. This much needed document should be ready in the Spring and should offer us informed and research-based non-statutory guidance.  Once again it has been commissioned and funded by the Early Years Coalition with the Froebel Trust and Montessori St. Nicholas providing significant financial support for the project – we will report on the development further as more information becomes available.

So where to now?

The majority of Montessorians in England provide education and care for children up to the age of 4, and we need to take time and really study what the changes are, working with our teams to tweak and adjust our policies, recording and planning, focusing on what really matters to children – their opportunities for rich learning in an atmosphere of  kindness, respect and trust. This should not be a huge task.

The fact that Ofsted no longer requires us to engage with tracking of children’s progress means we can focus on better quality observations and really celebrate the amazing play and work we witness in our daily work with children.  Join us in learning about the Learning Stories – the New Zealand model of assessment on Monday 7th December at 7 pm (UTC). Register here.

Continue to explore with your colleagues the key issues concerning high quality Montessori practice in our Leaders and Managers Facebook group and our monthly meetings – the next one is planned  for Monday 9 November at 7 pm (UTC) and will focus on lessons learned from the COVID experience. Register here.

Barbara Isaacs, 10 October 2020

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