EYFS REVIEW special - prime learning areas and fewer goals

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The EYFS review by Dame Clare Tickell has finally been unveiled, with its 40-plus recommendations seeking to support learning through play and build on the current framework's principles and themes.


The key recommendations aim to:

  • - address ways to prevent children from falling behind in their learning through early identification
  • - address ways to engage parents more in their children's learning
  • - clarify 'safeguarding and welfare' requirements
  • - overhaul the EYFS curriculum framework
  • - devise a joined-up approach to early progress checks between health and education
  • - reduce paperwork for providers of early learning
  • - simplify current assessment procedures.


The report focuses on four main areas:

  • - how to increase inclusivity, accessibility and flexibility within the framework
  • - how to equip children for life and ensure that they are 'ready' for school
  • - how to improve children's safety
  • - how to ensure that those working in the early years sector are equipped with appropriate knowledge and skills and that their qualifications are fit for purpose.


While the review recommends that the framework continues to apply to all types of provision, it nevertheless suggests that the process of securing an exemption from the learning and development requirements should be eased for some groups. These would include independent schools, wraparound care and holiday provision. It is recommended, too, that Steiner-Waldorf Foundation settings be exempted from particular early learning goals that currently conflict with their philosophical beliefs.

Budgets cuts could damage communication links within the sector, and with that the quality of provision. To combat this, the review recommends:

  • - providing revised guidance with a Plain English campaign Crystal Mark
  • - creating an interactive website that is easy to navigate
  • - retaining Development Matters statements, but presenting them in simplified language and in a slimmed down format.


More needs to be done to involve parents in their children's learning and improve early identification of children at risk or with delayed language and development, the review suggests.

One measure recommended to improve this is to adapt the current early childhood health record, the Red Book, and add information from early years providers in a proposed summary report, to be completed when children are two to three years old.

It is hoped that such a move would also help integrate health and early years services, which together provide so many vital services to young children and their families.


'School readiness' continues to be a controversial subject. In the review, Dame Clare uses the term 'school unreadiness' to explore the emotive issue of 'school readiness' for four-year-olds in reception classes.

The report holds that success at school stems not from an early introduction to reading and writing, but from a set of essential life skills. Such a skills set, argues the report, would also help prevent the current unease about the supposed high levels of underachievement among young children. The review, therefore, recommends dividing the six areas of learning and development into two groups: 'prime' and 'specific'.

The 'prime' areas are:

  • - Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PS&ED)
  • - Communication and Language (CL)
  • - Physical Development (PD).

These three areas reflect the areas used in healthy development reviews by health visitors when children reach two to two-and-a-half years of age.

The 'specific' areas are:

  • - Literacy (L)
  • - Mathematics (M)
  • - Understanding the world (UW)
  • - Expressive arts and design (EAD)

The categories for these specific areas aim to reflect the holistic nature of young children's learning and the 'subjects' that this learning will eventually slot into in the school curriculum, such as art, music, science, design and technology.

Prime areas

The review draws on evidence into how the right foundations of early learning make significant differences to outcomes for children and to future life chances. The three 'prime' areas are seen as the essential 'building blocks' for securing these positive outcomes for young children in later life and into adulthood.

The focus on communication and language stems from continuing concerns about the many children who currently lack communication skills appropriate to their age and the difficulties that flow from this problem, including difficulties in reading and writing skills, limited concentration and listening abilities and behaviour.

It is argued that by including Personal, Emotional and Social Development (PSED) as a prime area, children will learn positive dispositions such as empathy at an early age, so enabling them to understand their identity, form relationships and become effective members of society.

The review recognises the importance of physical development, its direct connection with active learning and its contribution to children grasping abstract ideas. The inclusion of physical development as a prime area also stems from the recognition that physical skills are important to children's self-confidence as well as leading to the development of many essential skills, such as balancing, climbing and, eventually, page-turning or holding a pencil. Also, it is only through exercise and eating well in early life that children learn to take care of themselves and learn the habits for a healthy lifestyle.

Importantly, the identification of these prime areas also represents the growing recognition that it is in the early years that children start to develop a sense of self and of others.


A number of significant changes are recommended in assessment, including:

  • - a reduction in the number of early learning goals
  • - clearer links between the goals and the Key Stage One curriculum
  • - the introduction of a simple assessment scale showing whether children's skills and knowledge across the early learning goals are 'emerging', 'expected' (in line with expectations for five-year-olds), or 'exceeding'.


In the light of recent serious cases in child protection, there is a call for:

  • - practitioners to be more aware of the warning signs of suspicious behaviour by others
  • - the EYFS should specify the content of child protection training that lead safeguarding practitioners are obliged to attend.

It is also recommended that the Government:

  • - act on the recent report of the Advisory Panel for Food and Nutrition in early years and consider providing advice to practitioners
  • - create parity between adult:child ratios in independent and maintained sector schools
  • - review the 1:30 ratio in reception classes.


The final section of the report is far-ranging. It covers such areas as workforce training, professional development and teaching schools for early years.

Here, Dame Clare seeks to convince the Government of the arguments for:

  • - continuing to aspire to a graduate-led workforce
  • - ensuring that careers in early years are promoted positively
  • - retaining vocational qualifications in early years, with prior learning accredited where expertise is recognised
  • - developing entry qualifications of a high standard and on a par with the former NNEB qualification.


The review has heeded the many complaints about the onerous amount of paperwork that providers have often felt under pressure to complete. In response, the review advocates that paperwork should be kept to a minimum, and Dame Clare has made clear her feelings that practitioners should be devoting their time and efforts to supporting children's development, rather than on writing endless records.

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