The EYFS reforms are not the change the phase needs

​​​​​​​The caricature of the Early Years Foundation Stage sector as being a slave to existing assessment framework is misleading, says Reception teacher Elaine Bennett
15th December 2020, 12:00pm
Elaine Bennett


The EYFS reforms are not the change the phase needs
Eyfs: Why We Need Investment In Cpd For Early Years Teachers

Most schools and settings use the Development Matters (2012) document for EYFS, with its wide, overlapping age bands to help assess and support the children in their setting.

This is going to change in the next 12 months and the reasons given for that are a little confusing to those of us working in the sector. Let me explain.

First, we have been told that we are using levels of assessment from which the rest of education has moved on. In a recent article for Tes, Dr Julian Grenier explained that "because the age bands are so wide, many schools and settings break them down further. So the 22-36 month band might be broken down into two or three sub-levels like "emerging", "developing" and "secure".  The rest of the education system abandoned these types of levels in assessments back in 2015."

EYFS accountability

The trouble with this statement is that age bands are not being broken down as a result of them being too broad. Instead, it's a result of tracking software.

Why does tracking software require this? Because schools/settings are under huge pressure to prove children are making progress, so we have to create artificial hoops for them to jump through.

Where does this pressure come from? Well, for this we can largely thank Ofsted and the Department for Education - ironically, the very people now telling us we need to reform assessment as data shouldn't be our focus.

Early years workload

Another issue, apparently, is that the current framework means teachers are matching photos to 510 age-band statements, with fingers blistered from gluing and eyes sore from data entry.

This, in my experience, simply does not happen. Moreover, to say it does happen is disrespectful to a sector that knows how to assess, that knows how to observe, that knows and understands how young children learn and develop. 

It is also disrespectful to those of us, like myself, who spent years as local authority EYFS moderators busting these myths around evidence.

Attempts to paint these reforms as a "workload reduction" are misleading.  

Assessment reform

The comeback on both of these points may be that EYFS professionals aren't giving their views on assessment, that they don't even see the problem. Dr Grenier writes that EYFS professionals were not engaged in the "lively debate" about the "need to reform assessment", and are instead "sitting this one out".  

In my experience, this is simply not true either.

We are talking about assessment: it's all over early years social media pages, especially those where teachers are trying to make sense of the new statutory framework and accompanying guidance as "early adopters".

However, the truth is, teachers have a lot going on right now. There's a global pandemic on: it might not have been the best time to launch new documents. We are spinning so many plates that fully engaging in the intricacies of the assessment debate is almost impossible.

The right kind of change

And if we truly want a change, it isn't about one document, it's about systemic change, a change in culture where performance management isn't linked to hypothetical "progress" and where tracking systems don't try to track what cannot simply be tracked on a grid - child development.

It's about those leading schools and academy chains - whose staff are often not EYFS trained - being trained in child development and effective, appropriate assessment.

It's about a much bigger discussion than the government seems to want us to have.

While I respect and admire the commitment Dr Grenier has to reducing the workload, and practitioners refocusing their efforts on teaching and away from excessive documentation and ticking off, I find the argument for change troubling.

We are on the ground, we are focused on our children every day, and the pressure we are under does not come from a document that needs change, it comes from above.

A rewrite of a non-statutory guidance, and the removal of bands won't change anything. We need more than rewrites, more than blogs, articles, webinars and social media posts. We need change. Real systemic change from the foundation upwards in our education system.

Elaine Bennett is a Reception teacher

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