Proposed EYFS changes ‘not supported by evidence’

Katy Morton
Monday, September 16, 2019

New research reveals there is little support among the sector or evidence for making extensive changes to the current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework.


  • Literature review and survey of practitioners finds current framework is sound
  • Minor changes suggested

New research reveals there is little support among the sector or evidence for making extensive changes to the current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework.

The research by a coalition of 12 early years sector membership organisations (see box) is made up of a literature review to test any changes to the EYFS against available evidence, and a survey of 3,000 practitioners.

Last year, the Government announced plans to review the Early Learning Goals. However, the coalition claims the intention is for a comprehensive rewrite of the EYFS framework, including the educational programmes for each area of learning.

The review suggests there is no ‘substantiated case’ for the EYFS to be ‘significantly’ changed, while the survey found widespread support for the current framework.

The coalition warns the Government is in danger of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ if it makes changes that are not supported by evidence or based on dialogue with the sector.

Literature review

The coalition commissioned Professors Chris Pascal, Tony Bertram and Liz Rouse of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) to carry out a literature review to ensure any changes to the EYFS can be tested against available evidence.

The review looked at studies from the past ten years on early learning, pedagogy and curriculum content from birth to age five in order to explore how far the EYFS and its underpinning structure, content, outcomes and pedagogic approaches are in agreement with this evidence, and what areas might need to be adjusted.

The evidence suggests there is no case for the current EYFS to undergo big changes. However, it says as less advantaged children continue to underachieve, some modifications – particularly in relation to the guidance on Communication and Language development, and giving greater prominence to the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning – might serve these children better.

Key messages and suggested modifications to the EYFS include:

  • Evidence suggests greater prominence should be given to the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning, and Personal, Social and Emotional Development, to ensure the foundational skills, understandings and knowledge in these areas are secure before more advanced, challenging learning is introduced to children.
  • The Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning, which support the development of self-regulation and positive learning habits, should be seen as a more central aspect.
  • The Early Learning Goals should be extended to cover a wider range of learning dispositions and capacities, including self-regulation.
  • It is important that EYFS children have a confident grasp of oral language and communication before they are moved on to grasp the skills of written forms.
  • There should be more focus on conceptual knowledge in mathematics, and practical rehearsal of mathematical, communication and literacy skills in real-world contexts that have meaning for the child.
  • The value of a balanced teaching approach that incorporates play-based and relational pedagogic approaches, alongside more structured learning and teaching, needs to be recognised more fully, especially when children are in transition between the EYFS and Key Stage 1.
  • There is a need for more encouragement and support to be given to the teaching of Expressive Arts and Design as this enhances mental health, well-being and underpins many other aspects of learning.
  • There is strong evidence that disadvantaged children and their peers need more opportunities for play, language consolidation and extension, and opportunities to develop their wider learning dispositions and capacities.
  • To effectively support children within diverse cultural and social norms, teaching content needs to equally recognise life experiences, including acknowledging different needs of summer-born children, and a broader span of social and behavioural competencies.

Some of the 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’.

Practitioner survey

The coalition also carried out a survey of early years practitioners to gauge their views on the EYFS and what changes might meet Government objectives to reduce workload and improve the development of children’s communication and language. A total of 3,000 people responded.

The initial findings showed that respondents do not believe excessive workload is a result of the current framework. Rather, it has been 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 progress.

Practitioners expressed fear that changing the framework would generate more workload.

They also felt that closing the gap between the most and least advantaged children’s communication and language skills did not require changes to the EYFS.

Eighty-seven per cent considered that the current EYFS meets children’s needs in communication and learning ‘well’ or ‘very well’.

However, survey respondents 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/carers, especially in relation to the home-learning environment.

The coalition says the findings suggest that the main challenge is to change existing culture and practice, not the EYFS framework.


The coalition is recommending that the review of the EYFS adheres to four key principles:

  • Recognise the central importance of the Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning – playing and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically.
  • Support the current emphasis on the Prime areas within the EYFS as particularly crucial and time-sensitive in the early years, and their foundational nature in relation to all later learning.
  • Acknowledge the premise that all areas of learning are interconnected, demonstrating the holistic nature of young children’s development.
  • Acknowledge that there is no evidence to support giving mathematics and literacy greater emphasis than any other areas within the EYFS.


Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said, ‘This literature review enables us to look at the changes to the EYFS with confidence that we are judging them against the most recent evidence.

‘The practitioner survey is a rich resource which our researchers are continuing to analyse to ensure changes to the EYFS are tested against what practitioners tell us are the realities on the ground. This extensive evidence base gives Government the opportunity to revisit the proposed changes and come up with a much improved draft before going out to consultation with the sector.’

Members of the coalition

  • Early Education
  • Early Childhood Forum (ECF)
  • Early Childhood Studies Degree Network (ECSDN)
  • Early Years Alliance
  • Keeping Early Years Unique (KEYU)
  • Montessori St Nicholas
  • National Children’s Bureau (NCB)
  • National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA)
  • Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY)
  • Sector Endorsed Foundation Degrees in the Early Years (SEFDEY)
  • TACTYC: The Association for Professional Development in the Early Years
  • British Early Childhood Education Research Association (BECERA)

The literature review, Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence, launched at an event at King’s College London on Monday (16 September), can be downloaded from

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