Most schools are reporting that reforms to the early years foundation stage framework (EYFS) have or will have a positive effect on education, an evaluation report has found.
But some leaders and staff have noted that children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) could be “negatively impacted” by the changes.
Following consultation with the sector, the Department for Education (DfE) rolled out reforms to the EYFS from September 2021.
It hoped to improve outcomes by focusing on key areas such as maths, language development and literacy and reduce “unnecessary” assessment paperwork for staff.
The report, published on Friday, is based on surveys and qualitative research among EY providers, staff and local authorities carried out by IFF Research.
Surveys of 923 reception leaders took place between October and December 2022.
Reception is the first year of primary school and marks the end of EYFS.
A total of 60 interviews were also conducted with leaders and staff at school-based providers, schools with receptions only, group-based providers and with childminders in February and March this year.
1. Most schools and receptions have changed curriculum ‘approach’ …
The most common action early years settings had made as a result of the reforms was to review their curriculum and development approach (98 per cent of school leaders in receptions).
This was followed by actually making changes to this approach (94 per cent of receptions).
The most common way leaders had changed the curriculum to effect the EYFS requirements was by putting less focus on observation and tracking and instead spending more time with children.
This accounted for 88 per cent of reception leaders.
2. … And early years assessments have reduced
The vast majority of providers had also changed assessment practices – 88 per cent of receptions.
Among those reporting their assessment practices had changed, the majority said spending more time with children was the primary way these had been altered (82 per cent of reception leaders).
Meanwhile, just under half (46%) of reception leaders reported less internal tracking of children’s “general” progress during the year.
3. Most also report improvements to early years teaching
Most leaders also felt that the EYFS reforms had improved the quality of teaching. Four-fifths of reception leaders said they thought they had.
And among staff, where they had made changes to the curriculum or teaching practices, it was broadly agreed that reforms had improved the quality of teaching (73 per cent of reception staff).
4. Lack of support for SEND children a ‘concern’
But the report noted that an “area of concern” raised during interviews was whether the reforms “catered sufficiently” for children with SEND, or other additional needs such as English as additional language (EAL).
Some also noted that the transition into key stage 1 could “still be” difficult for some children, who need more support after the EYFS.
It added that these areas could “therefore be the focus of future policy development”.
Data from the surveys shows that only a small proportion of leaders raised such concerns. Asked about gaps within the changes, only 8 per cent of reception leaders said they did not address the needs of SEND or EAL pupils.
5. Fifth of leaders think reforms will make little difference on transition
The majority of leaders thought the reforms have or would have a positive impact on children’s learning and development – 68 per cent of reception leaders.
But fewer thought there would be a positive impact on transitions to year 1 – 38 per cent of reception leaders.
Meanwhile, 21 per cent of reception leaders thought the reforms would make little or no difference to the transition.
6. Councils think reforms had negative impact
Leaders in reception were generally either “ambivalent or positive” about the removal of local authority statutory moderation from the EYFS profile.
The most common impact report across both settings was a reduction in stress and pressure on staff (16 per cent).
Excluding those who did not know, over one in five reported that this removal had no impact (21 per cent).
But half of LAs thought the removal had a negative impact on the quality of EY education, with a further 32 per cent reporting that it was too early to tell.
Those who reported the impact had been negative were most likely to say it had reduced opportunities for shared practice (43 per cent), lowered standards (39 per cent) and created a lack of consistency (35 per cent).