Independent schools that are considered of good enough quality will be able to apply for exemption from the statutory curriculum for children from birth to five, from 26 October.
This means that any independent school that meets the eligibility criteria can choose to be exempt from some or all of the learning and development requirements.
Currently, early years providers can only apply to be exempt from the learning and development requirements in certain circumstances, for example if they are governed by ‘established principles’ that cannot be reconciled with the EYFS.
Some Steiner Waldorf schools, for example, have previously been granted exemptions from some aspects of the EYFS.
However, the exemptions process has been criticised for involving long delays in the application process, which involves consulting local authorities.
Following the consultation, Steiner schools will continue to be able to apply for exemptions. However, the process will be simplified so that providers will no longer have to consult local authorities over exemptions but inform them of their intentions.
Free entitlement funding
However, providers will continue to be required to seek the views of parents. This is particularly important because schools will need to be clear with parents that opting out of the EYFS could affect the free entitlement funding for three-and four-year-olds.
Views expressed in the consultation varied. Steiner schools said that most parents were reliant on the funding and many independent schools said that they would be unable to take up exemptions if the local authority stopped funding early education places.
Local authorities had mixed views. Eight of them said that exempted providers should not receive funding, while others felt that funding should be dependent on whether schools were partially exempt due to 'established principles' or had opted out completely.
The Government has decided that revised statutory guidance on the delivery of the free entitlement will give local authorities 'broader discretion' on whether to fund places with providers that are exempt, if there is parental demand. The DfE will moniter the impact on take-up of free early education places and keep policy on funding free places under review.
Steiner Waldorf schools
Janni Nichol, of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, said, ‘Steiner Waldorf schools and kindergartens will be applying for exemptions as before, based on our Steiner "established principles".
‘Our settings are presently in discussions with their local authorities to see how this will affect their funding before making the final list of modifications and exemptions which they will apply for.
‘In general, the recommendation from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship will be to apply for those which conflict with the Steiner Waldorf curriculum for early childhood, where children are not taught formal literacy or numbers, nor do they have access to electronic gadgetry or computers.
‘We are presently in discussion regarding the Profile submission which is irrelevant as a school readiness baseline - as children remain in Steiner settings until six plus years, which is when they progress into the main Steiner school.’
The Government will put in place ‘a block process’, so that independent schools associations will notify the Department for Education of schools seeking to become exempt.
The DfE said it has ‘strengthened the quality threshold set for all independent schools.’ In addition to requiring a "good" or better judgement, schools will also need to meet new standards for children below compulsory school age that comes into force in January 2013, as part of the revised Independent Schools Standards.
This is expected to say that independent schools that have pupils below compulsory school age must provide, ‘a programme of activities which is appropriate to their educational needs in relation to personal, social, emotional, physical development and communication and linguistic skills’.
The DfE will review inspection reports, liaise with inspectorates and require schools to notify the department and their local authority when they no longer meet conditions for exemption.
The move to allow exemptions for independent schools has been welcomed by the Independent Association of Prep Schools.
David Hanson, chief executive of IAPS, said, ‘This has been a four-year journey since my arrival at IAPS, when I made it my personal mission to roll back this intrusive legislation from our schools.
‘I am delighted that after four years of persistent work behind the scenes we have achieved this.’
Mr Hanson has worked alongside the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and with education ministers to amend arrangements so that independent schools could opt out of the EYFS framework
He added, ‘My central objection to the compulsory imposition of EYFS on our schools was that it contradicted their independence. Our schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum from Year 1 onwards, so it was wholly unfair to have the EYFS framework imposed on them.
‘The bottom line is that parental choice in their children’s education must be upheld, and enforcing the framework was eliminating that entirely.
‘I have no problem with EYFS per se – it has improved some of the most deprived settings – but it has also frustrated some practitioners and my principle has always been that independent schools should not be subject to Government-imposed methodology.’