Children continue to achieve a good level of development at the end of Reception

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The number of children achieving a good level of development at the end of the EYFS has risen again, while the gender gap between boys and girls has fallen for the fifth year running.

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The latest EYFS Profile results show that 71.5 per cent of children achieved a good level of development in 2018, an increase of 0.8 percentage points on 2017.

Both boys and girls have improved in the three key measures – achieving a good level of development, achieving at least the expected level across all early learning goals (ELGs), and the average point score.

Boys have improved at a faster rate, which means the gender gap has decreased. The gender gap for the percentage of children achieving a good level of development has reduced in each year from 2014 and fell from 13.7 percentage points to 13.5 percentage points in 2018.

Girls continue to outperform boys in all the ELGS. The gender gap for the percentage achieving at least the expected level is largest in writing (12.8 percentage points), reading (10.5 percentage points) and exploring and using media and materials (10.1 percentage points). The gap is the smallest for technology (2.9 percentage points).

In 2018 there was an increase in the percentage of children achieving at least the expected level in 11 of the ELGs compared to 2017.

Local authority areas

There continues to be wide variation between local authority areas:

  • The percentage of children achieving a good level of development varies between 63.9 per cent in Middlesborough to 80.5 per cent in Richmond upon Thames.
  • The percentage achieving at least the expected level in all ELGs varies from 61 per cent in Kingston upon Hull to 80.3 per cent in Richmond upon Thames.
  • The attainment gap between all children and the lowest attaining 20 per cent of children varies from 21.2 per cent in Richmond upon Thames to 45 per cent in Stoke-on-Trent.

Stella Ziolkowski, NDNA’s director of quality and training, said, ‘Despite these figures demonstrating some progress there are some deeply concerning issues that show the challenges in early years. There are still a significant number of children, almost one in three, who are achieving ‘emerging’ in at least one of the early learning goals. 

‘As well as this, the gender gap is still over 13 per cent and recent improvements have slowed showing that more needs to be done to address the issue. We are still seeing large gaps between boys and girls when it comes to reading and writing.

‘The fact that the inequality gap has been getting wider and the clear attainment differences between councils show how one element of Government policy is working against its other aims. We know that better experience in children’s earlier years can only improve their outcomes at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

‘Chronic underfunding for nurseries is undermining their ability to deliver the best possible start for children. The Government can’t expect to address these inequalities when the hourly rate for three- and four-year-old places are over one pound an hour higher in Richmond upon Thames than Stoke and Hull, where the achievement of expected levels are much lower, and the attainment gap is more significant.’

The Pre-school Learning Alliance said that while the EYFS Profile was not perfect, plans to bring back baseline assessment were a move in the wrong direction.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘As always, these results serve as a timely reminder of the value of assessing children across a broad range of early skills. It's a shame therefore, that rather than feeling encouraged by today's statistics and supported to carry on delivering quality care and education that supports children across all areas of learning, many practitioners will instead be worried about the ongoing shift in government policy towards a much more formalised approach to early education, and that it will force them to start focusing on narrower, easier-to-measure skills to the detriment of children's early learning.

‘While some would argue that the EYFS Profile is not a perfect assessment, its strength undoubtedly lies in its broad and observational nature, and the fact that it looks at the EYFS as a stage of learning in its own right.

‘But with plans to reintroduce baseline assessment and narrow the Early Years Goals, the Government has made clear that the planned direction of travel for early education is one that focuses on preparing for Key Stage 1, with a heavy emphasis on numeracy and literacy alone – a clear step in completely the wrong direction.

‘The Government needs to look again at why the EYFS Profile was first introduced, remind itself that early assessment is not, and should not be, a tick-box exercise and look to develop policies which focus on the way children actually develop, not the ease with which their learning can be measured.’

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said, 'The sector has achieved steady progress year by year in helping more children to reach the so-called "Good Level of Development". But we should ask why this appears to be stalling - is this a sign of underfunding of the sector, of the reduced resource within local authorities to support quality improvement and professional development?

'Looking forward, before government introduces any changes to the ELGs it needs to consider the impact those changes will have - removing the ELG in technology, based on current data, would bring down the overall score, as well as increasing the gap between boys and girls, and increasing the focus on reading and writing could also increase the gender gap, as these are the areas where it is currently highest. 

'These differences should lead government to ask if it is setting expectations at an appropriate level - the "Good Level of Development" is a very blunt tool that has never taken account of differences such as the age of the child at the end of the Reception year, and the uneven levels of achievement across the ELGs demonstrate that not all the goals are set at an appropriate level. 

'These are decisions that need to be grounded in evidence and extensive understanding of how children learn and develop. This is sorely lacking in the version of the ELGs currently being piloted for the DfE.'

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