Getting to grips with the revised EYFS framework

In September 2021, the revised EYFS Framework will become statutory. How can you prepare for the changes to your current EYFS curriculum?

The Department for Education (DfE) has published changes to the early years foundation stage (EYFS) framework on its website. Nursery leaders and managers need to consider how to design their new curriculum around the new educational programmes, not the early learning goals.

The main principles of the revised EYFS Framework are to:

  • improve outcomes at the end of the Reception school year
  • advance language development for all children, but specifically those with from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or with English as an additional language
  • reduce the burden of data and paperwork that currently encumber EYFS practitioners. This in turn will help to shift the focus back to high quality observations and assessments for every child.

The new framework will be accompanied by new Development Matters guidance, released by the Department for Education, or the Birth to 5 Matters guidance, produced by the Early Years Coalition.

What remains the same?

The seven areas of learning and development (three prime areas and four specific areas) will not change:

  • Communication and language development
  • Physical development
  • Personal, social and emotional development
  • Literacy development
  • Mathematics
  • Understanding the world
  • Expressive arts and design.

The characteristics of effective learning also remain in place – playing and exploring, active learning, and creating and thinking critically.

The EYFS will still be based upon the four key principles:

  • unique child
  • positive relationships
  • enabling environments
  • learning development.

Children’s learning and teachers’ planning will still be based around high-quality texts, led by children’s interests.

The ‘good level of development’ (GLD) will still be measured against the early learning goals at the end of the Reception school year.

What is different?

What you do on the ground won’t change very much, but you will need to shift your approach to tracking and showing progress. As a practitioner, you will still observe individual children’s progress and experiences; the new framework just encourages you to be more strategic with these observations.

There will now be two statutory assessments in one year – a baseline upon entry to Reception and then another against the early learning goals at the end of the school year.

There are seven key features of effective practice. In the three prime areas, you can find observational checkpoints at ages 2, 3 and 4.

Changes to the early learning goals

There are no more subsections within the areas of learning until you get to the early learning goals. These have been updated and changed to be clearer and more specific.

The standout changes are the removal of health and self-care, and shape, space and measure. For this reason alone, it is important that schools do not use the early learning goals as a curriculum as this will not give children a broad enough learning experience.

There is clear guidance about what the early learning goals should and should not be used for. Practitioners are now simply being asked to consider: ‘Have the children achieved the early learning goals or not?’

Other changes

There have been some small changes with regards to safeguarding and welfare requirements, such as oral health. It is up to individual schools and settings to decide how they will cover this within their curriculum.

Local authorities no longer have a statutory duty to moderate. This is now the responsibility of individual schools.

Curriculum guidance documents

There are now two curriculum guidance documents to choose from: Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters. Neither of these documents are statutory but, as a school or setting, you should look at both and decide which, if either, you would like to use.

In Development Matters, the age/month bands have been replaced with three age pathways:

  • Birth to 3
  • 3 and 4-year-olds
  • Children in reception.

In Birth to 5 Matters, the age-month bands have been replaced with ranges. The document provides guidance from range 1 to 6. It continues to split the areas of learning into subsections and follows a similar format to the original Development Matters document that was released in 2012.

What should you be doing in preparation for September 2021?

The revised framework reinforces how Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters should be used as guidance, not as a checklist. These documents should be viewed as ‘the floor, not the sky’, on which schools should build their own rich, ambitious curriculum.  

1. Focus on the child

Consider the children and communities that you are working with. Emphasise balancing your knowledge about each child with the big learning picture. Where is a child’s learning now and what are their next steps towards making progress?

Ensure that you are providing children with a personalised skills-based curriculum that allows them to progress within the seven areas of learning.

Practitioners are encouraged to build on observations to focus on capturing those that show progress through a specific goal and build on next steps in learning.

In principle, an EYFS curriculum based on core skills-based progression will mean that there is no need for next steps in learning because they will already be built into the curriculum.

2. Decide what works best

Practitioners need to decide what they want children in their setting to learn, and the most effective ways to teach it.

You must stimulate children’s interests, responding to each child’s emerging needs and guiding their development through warm, positive interactions, coupled with secure routines for play and learning.

It will be up to individual schools and settings to decide how they track progress throughout the early years; however, remember that one of the main aims of these changes is reduce paperwork and needless data production and analysis.

3. Identify skills gaps

With a returned emphasis on practitioners understanding how children develop and make progress, rather than on data and percentages, ensuring that all staff have access to high quality continuing professional development (CPD) will be more important than ever.

Do all your early years staff have a good understanding of child development? Do they, for example, understand the skills and provision needed to develop an emergent writer?

In summary, the revised EYFS framework aims to provide practitioners with more room for professional judgement based on their own knowledge and experience, rather than constantly referring to the early learning goals or age bands.

Its purpose is to empower teachers to understand progress, understand the children in their care and identify what they need to do to make progress.

Further reading

DfE: Changes to the early years foundation stage (EYFS) framework: Explains what early years managers and practitioners need to consider for September.

Birth to 5 Matters: Non-statutory guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Early Years Foundation Stage Profile 2021 Handbook: This handbook supports EYFS practitioners in making accurate judgements about each child's attainment.

Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence (September 2019) by Professors Chris Pascal, Tony Bertram at Dr Liz Rouse.

Working with the revised Early Years Foundation Stage: Principles into Practice:  Julian Grenier, government advisor and a primary school head teacher, provides an excellent example of a starting point to building a skills-based curriculum that covers eight curricular goals which, in turn, give way to eight key observations that can run consecutively throughout a half term.


Last Updated: 
04 May 2021