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The Early Years: should we be concerned?

Cherry Hughes | 01.12.2013

BSA Education Officer Cherry Hughes expresses concern over calls to change the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

The EYFS comprises a set of learning and development goals. It was introduced in 2006 to guide the provision from birth to five years for all government-funded early years settings. It was revised in September 2012 and the changes were welcomed by the BSA and its partners in the Communication Trust, particularly the reduction of learning goals for children from 139 to 17; the inclusion of communication and language as one of the three prime areas of learning; the emphasis on creating a communication-enabling environment; learning through play; and an assessment framework that identified a child’s development needs at two and five years. Some concern about staff training and qualifications remained but generally the revised EYFS was seen as an improvement by the BSA, as it emphasised the child’s social and emotional development as much as the cognitive.

Proposed changes from Ofsted

However, there are signs that this more developmental approach is to be eroded, with a greater emphasis on the more school-style formal cognitive learning of the National Curriculum, which currently applies from Year 1 of the primary school. The Chief Inspector of Schools, former secondary Head Michael Wilshaw, has said the government should make the assessment in Reception of EYFS more like the Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) - the National Curriculum assessments by teachers that take place at the end of a child's second year of primary school. “Introducing earlier and more rigorous assessments would,” he said, “ensure teachers could measure children's progress.”

There is considerable concern in the early years sector about this hint of more formality and testing, as already, young children in England start formal learning much earlier than elsewhere in the world. The consensus view of the early years voluntary organisations, and many academics, is that extending the National Curriculum into early years risks damaging young children’s learning and development even more. In fact, there is considerable support for extending the principles of the EYFS to the end of Key Stage 1 at age seven in order to give a better foundation for children’s formal learning after that. The BSA can see value in exploring this view and would certainly need additional evidence to prove that a more formal approach is helpful, as many parents and therapists already worry that the additional pressures of this may increase anxiety for our children, and trigger episodes of dysfluency. 

EYFS profile

Currently this is completed in the Reception Year by the class teacher and focuses on development and the child’s identified needs – it includes social and emotional aspects of development as well as the cognitive. Our children benefit particularly from this recognition in the EYFS that confidence and self-esteem is to be nurtured and developed as much as cognitive learning. Under new proposals, out for consultation, the government wants to make the EYFS profile non-statutory and allow schools to carry out a check instead - similar in form to the Phonics Check in Year 1. The BSA consultation response opposes this, as we fear that a simple check on achievement will not identify the holistic needs of the child and will introduce formal measurements at too young an age. We wait to see now what the government’s final decision on this will be.   

Last but by no means least!

Children as young as two should be enrolled at school in an attempt to raise ‘dire’ standards of early education among large numbers of infants, according to Baroness Morgan, the Chairman of Ofsted.

In a recent speech, the Baroness argued that many deprived children had ‘low social skills’, poor standards of reading and an inability to communicate properly, meaning they were ‘not ready to learn’ when they entered the first full year of school, and claimed that early exposure to formal education is needed to eradicate the 19-month achievement gap seen between rich and poor pupils by the age by five. She called for the creation of a new generation of ‘all-through’ schools that combine nurseries with primary and secondary education – enabling children to be enrolled at the age of two or three and remain up to 18.

The comments come amid ongoing debate over the best way to prepare children for compulsory education and initiated a furious and hostile reaction from many voluntary organisations and academics in the early years sector.

What are your views - should the Early Years offer a more formal curriculum and assessment? Cherry would like to hear any comments or views you may have on the current EYFS and/or the proposed changes. Enter your comments below.

From Speaking Out Winter 2013, p.22