The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile results for England, published today by the Department for Education, show that at a national level 70.7 per cent of children achieved a good level of development in 2017, up from 69.3 per cent in 2016 - an increase of 1.4 percentage points.
Girls continue to do better than boys in all the early learning goals. The figures show that 76.5 per cent of girls achieved at least the expected level in all early learning goals (ELGs), compared to 61.8 per cent of boys.
However, the figures show that the gender gap has decreased slightly, with the gap for the percentage achieving at least the expected level in all ELGs decreasing from 15.7 percentage points to 14.7 percentage points in 2017.
Both girls and boys have improved, but girls have improved at a faster rate. The gap in the average total point score has decreased from 2.5 to 2.4.
The gender gap between girls and boys is largest in writing (12.9 percentage points) and smallest for technology (2.6 percentage points).
Last month the Government announced plans to revise the Early Learning Goals, and to cut the number that are assessed in the EYFS Profile. A new Reception baseline will also be introduced from September 2020.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘It’s very positive to see that the number of children achieving a good level of development continuing to rise. At a time of such challenges for childcare providers, today’s figures underline the important work the early years sector is doing in delivering quality care and education for the young children in their care.’
The DfE is looking at the feasibility of reducing the number of ELGs that are assessed, and limiting this to the three prime areas (communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development) and the specific areas of mathematics and literacy.
Mr Leitch added, ‘What's more, with the Government planning to reintroduce the baseline assessment, these results serve as a timely reminder of the value of EYFS Profile. The broad, observational and child-focused nature of the Profile make it a far more appropriate method of early assessment and, while not perfect, the fact that it assesses such a wide range of early skills allows it to capture the nuances and complexities of young children’s learning in a way that a narrow, binary test never could.
‘With the Government not only planning to reintroduce the baseline assessment but also to narrow the focus of the Profile, focusing it more heavily on numeracy and literacy, there is a real danger of early assessment becoming little more than a tick-box exercise. By restricting children’s learning to the skills that are easiest to measure, we do them a gross disservice.
'As such, we continue to oppose the baseline assessment and urge the Government to ensure that it doesn’t remove from the EYFS Profile the very qualities that make it such a worthwhile and useful assessment.’
The DfE said it was committed to improving the EYFS Profile by clarifying and refining the early learning goals and by reviewing supporting guidance to reduce burdens for teachers.
Minister for children and families Robert Goodwill said, 'Access to a high-quality early education is vital for giving all children the very best start in life, so I am delighted that the results today continue to show real progress – this is testament to the hard work of professionals all over the country.
'There is always more to be done to give every child the tools to achieve their full potential, particularly to improve their language and literacy skills. That’s why we recently announced a series of programmes to tackle these early skills in Reception, including through our £140 million Strategic School Improvement Fund.'
Stella Ziolkowski, director of quality and workforce development at National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, 'These figures sadly show government childcare policy is putting quantity ahead of quality.
'Increased investment and 15 hours of funded childcare for threes and fours during this period made no positive difference to the children in many key areas of their learning, particularly reading, writing and numbers.
'In many of these key areas, boys are not catching up with girls’ progress and the inequality gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has even risen slightly from last year.
'The hourly funding rate is too low and business costs too high for providers to be able to replace graduates and higher qualified staff once they leave. Our members are telling us they cannot replace their highest qualified staff members and some are even making teachers redundant due to the losses they are incurring.
'According to our recent research, 57 per cent of English nurseries expect to make a loss or break even, demonstrating financial resources to invest in staff training and development are impossible. As a result, our young children are being taught by a less qualified workforce on low pay with little incentive to progress.
'Government needs to turn this around now. They must focus on the quality of early education by investing sufficiently in funded childcare to enable nurseries to develop well-qualified staff and reward them appropriately.
'The Government also needs to bolster its new workforce strategy with real investment to attract the right calibre of people into the early years sector.'