A review of academic research – ‘Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence’ – which was co funded by the Montessori St Nicholas Charity – found no evidence to support extensive changes to the current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. 

The report, produced by a coalition of 12 early years sector organisations, launched at an event on the 16th of September at King’s College London. In addition, initial findings from a survey of 3,000 early years practitioners was presented.  These also show widespread support for the current EYFS.

The review of the research evidence from 2009 to 2019 addresses the questions:

  • How far does the rationale for the prime and specific areas and the characteristics of effective learning reflect current knowledge about early learning and teaching? 
  • What aspects of the EYFS are affirmed and what need adjustment based on evidence from the last 10 years?

The report identifies where a case for change is supported by the evidence, and notes a number of gaps in what we know.

Leonor Stjepic, CEO of the Montessori Group said: ‘We are proud to be able to support this vital piece of work, which not only highlights the widespread support for the current EYFS but addresses key issues within it which we can now continue to analyse and address.”

The coalition recommended the government’s review of the EYFS adheres to four key principles:

  1. Recognising the central importance of the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning (playing and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically). These have been emphasised by the growing body of research on self-regulation and executive function.
  2. Supporting the current emphasis on the Prime Areas within the EYFS (Communication and Language, Physical Development and Personal, Social and Emotional Development) as particularly crucial and time sensitive in the early years, and their foundational nature in relation to all later learning. This includes the importance of communication and language skills as a basis for literacy, and in turn the importance of literacy in children’s long-term attainment and social and cultural life. 
  3. Acknowledging the premise that all areas of learning are interconnected, demonstrating the holistic nature of young children’s development.
  4. Acknowledging that there is no evidence to support giving mathematics and literacy greater emphasis than any other areas of learning within the EYFS.

The report argues that some of government’s current plans, such as ceasing to assess children at the end of Reception on Shape, Space and Measure and Technology are not supported by the evidence, which identifies these areas as crucial for children’s future success.

The launch looked at initial findings from a survey of 3,000 early years practitioners on their experience of the EYFS; what helps, what makes it more difficult, and what might change. 

Survey responses also suggested that excessive workload is not a result of the current EYFS framework.  Excessive paperwork has been mainly driven by the interpretation of Ofsted requirements in terms of evidencing children’s progress and attainment, and pressure from leaders, managers and local authorities to gather large amounts of data about children’s progress.

This suggests that the main challenge is to change existing culture and practice, not the framework.  Practitioners fear that changing the framework itself will generate additional workload.

Practitioners reported that closing the gap between the most- and least-advantaged children’s communication and language skills did not require changes to the EYFS.  87% of practitioners considered that the EYFS meets children’s needs in Communication and Learning well or very well.  However, they called for more professional development for the sector, access to specialist support such as speech and language therapists, and increased resources for settings to provide more staff time to work with children and their parents and carers, especially in relation to the home learning environment.

Download slides from the launch event: 

Literature review presentation and Practitioner survey presentation

Please click here for review document.