EYFS: Everything you need to know

Key facts about the history of the early years foundation stage, how children are assessed and what the research shows

Early years foundation stage: need to know

What is the EYFS?

The early years foundation stage (EYFS) sets the standards for learning from birth to age 5 – before key stage 1 begins in Year 1.

The statutory EYFS framework is split into three main sections: the learning and development requirements; assessment; and the safeguarding and welfare requirements. 

It applies to all early years providers in England: local authority-maintained schools, non-maintained schools, independent schools, academies and free schools, nurseries, private nursery schools, preschools and playgroups, and childminders.


Background: Your guide to the early years foundation stage profile

Controversy: Decision to scrap 'important' early years goal defended

Viewpoint: Let’s stop arguing over what EYFS learning looks like


What is the EYFSP?

The EYFS profile (EYFSP) is an assessment of children’s achievements at the end of the Reception year – the last year of the early years foundation stage.

Children are assessed against 17 early learning goals (ELGs). The child’s profile will include whether they are below, at or above these goals – known as emerging, expected or exceeding the level expected by the end of Reception.

The profile report must also include a short commentary on each child’s skills and abilities in relation to three "characteristics of effective learning".

The EYFSP covers a wide range of children’s abilities.

When was it introduced, and what has changed?

The early years foundation stage was established under Section 39 of the Childcare Act 2006. The law officially took effect from September 2008, under Gordon Brown's Labour government.

The document has been updated several times since then: in 2012, 2014 and 2017.

A revised framework is set to be rolled out in 2021 after a consultation.

How is the profile recorded?

Practitioners record evidence of their observations and complete a profile summary, which is submitted to their local authority. LAs have a duty to moderate judgements in their area to ensure they are consistent.

But there have been long-standing concerns about the amount of evidence about each child that is required to be recorded and kept.

Revisions of the EYFSP have attempted to reduce this and, in the assessment and reporting arrangements for the profile, teachers are told that evidence “doesn’t need to be formally recorded or documented” and that “paperwork should be kept to the minimum that practitioners need to illustrate, support and recall their knowledge of the child’s attainment”.

Who gets the information?

Schools must share “a written summary of a child’s attainment against the ELGs” with parents. The report must show whether a child is not yet reaching, at or exceeding the expected level for each ELG, summarise attainment and comment on the characteristics of effective learning.

Year 1 teachers must be given a copy of the EYFS profile for each child.

The government will publish national and local authority data, but not school-level data. There are no EYFS league tables.

What are the 4 main principles of the EYFS?

The early years foundation stage has four overarching, guiding principles. According to the government, these should "shape practice" in early years settings. They are:

  1. Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.
  2. Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships.
  3. Children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers. 
  4. Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates. The framework covers the education and care of all children in early years provision, including children with special educational needs and disabilities.

What are the 7 areas of learning of the EYFS?

The early learning goals fall into seven categories. These are:

  1. Communication and language development. Children are given opportunities to speak and listen in a range of situations, and to develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves.
  2. Physical development. Children are given opportunities to be active and interactive, and to develop their coordination, control, and movement. They must also be helped to understand the importance of physical activity, and to make healthy choices in relation to food.
  3. Personal, social and emotional development. Children are helped to develop a positive sense of themselves and others; form positive relationships and develop respect for others; develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings; understand appropriate behaviour in groups; and have confidence in their own abilities.
  4. Literacy. Children are encouraged to read and write. They must be given access to a wide range of reading materials such as books and poems.
  5. Mathematics. Children practise their skills in counting numbers; adding and subtracting; and describing shapes, spaces, and measures.
  6. Understanding of the world. Children are guided to make sense of their physical world and their community through exploring, observing and finding out about people, places, technology and the environment.
  7. Expressive arts and design. Children explore and play with a wide range of media and materials. They are encouraged to share their thoughts, ideas and feelings through art, music, movement, dance, role play, and design and technology.

What are the 17 ELGs?

The early learning goals are under review. However, until the new ELGs are officially rolled out, practitioners are required to follow the existing framework. The current goals are:

  1. Listening and attention. Can listen to stories and respond with relevant comments.
  2. Understanding. Can follow instructions involving several actions.
  3. Speaking. Can express themselves effectively.
  4. Moving and handling. Show good control and coordination.
  5. Health and self-care. Can dress and go to the toilet independently.
  6. Self-confidence and self-awareness. Are confident about speaking in a familiar group.
  7. Managing feelings and behaviour. Know some behaviour is unacceptable.
  8. Making relationships. Play cooperatively, taking turns with others.
  9. Reading. Can read and understand simple sentences.
  10. Writing. Can use their phonic knowledge to write words in a way that matches their spoken sounds.
  11. Numbers. Can count up to 20.
  12. Shape, space and measures. Can compare quantities to solve problems.
  13. People and communities. Know about similarities and differences between themselves and others and among communities.
  14. The world. Know about similarities and differences in relation to places.
  15. Technology. Can select and use technology for particular purposes.
  16. Exploring and using media and materials. Sing songs, make music and dance.
  17. Being imaginative. Represent their own ideas and feelings through design and technology, art and other means.

What are the 3 characteristics of effective learning"?

In planning and guiding children’s activities, providers must consider the different ways that children learn, and reflect these in their practices. The three "characteristics of effective learning" are:

  1. Playing and exploring. Children investigate and experience things, and "have a go".
  2. Active learning. Children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements.
  3. Creating and thinking critically. Children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.

What are the proposed changes to the EYFS?

In 2018, the Department for Education proposed changes to the ELGs, designed to improve outcomes at age 5. They aimed to boost language development, especially for the most disadvantaged children.

The updated framework controversially omitted the need to assess children on the mathematical area of "shape, space and measure" or on their ability to use technology, such as computers and cameras.

The proposed new ELGs were piloted in a small group of schools in September 2018. 

The DfE commissioned the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to carry out an independent evaluation of the pilot.

The EEF published its findings in a report in October 2019. Teachers who took part in the pilot said their workload was lower due to reduced expectations for assessment and evidence gathering. They also reported that the new ELGs were clearer and more specific.

However, there were mixed views about whether children would be better prepared for KS1 because of the changes.

Early years organisations had previously expressed fears that sidelining personal development in the curriculum, which sets out goals for preschool children, in favour of literacy or numeracy skills could be "detrimental" to young children's education.

How are children performing?

The proportion of four- and five-year-olds who are judged at a "good level of development" at the end of Reception is rising year on year.

There has also been an upward trend in the proportion of children achieving the "expected level of development".

To reach a "good level of development" children must have reached the early learning goal in 12 of the 17 areas in which they are assessed.

And to reach the "expected level of development", they must have reached or exceeded the goal in all 17 assessment areas.

Girls generally perform better than boys, and summer-born pupils tend to trail behind their autumn-born peers.

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