Paperwork will be slashed for reception teachers under the Tickell review of early years education, The TES has learnt.
Under discussion are proposals that five-year-olds could be assessed against as few as 17 criteria, compared with the 117 currently included in the early years foundation stage (EYFS) - the so-called "nappy curriculum".
And concerns that children are introduced to reading and writing too early could be addressed by separating literacy from the "communication, language and literacy" learning area.
The review by Action for Children chief executive Dame Clare Tickell, which is due out later this term, is still being finalised.
But predictions that the EYFS may be dropped altogether look unlikely, as the Tickell review has been made aware of strong support for a single framework across the sector and concerns that without it a two-tier system would be created.
The current assessment, called the EYFS profile, calls on teachers to assess not just whether children can order numbers up to 10 and write simple words, but also more hard-to-measure concepts such as whether they are developing a respect for other people's cultures.
Ann Tanner, head of Whitley Park Primary School and Nursery in Reading, said that less paperwork would be welcome in early years classrooms.
"The essential ingredient for me is that the early learning goals are developmentally appropriate," she said. "The old ones were not sufficiently clear - there are some woolly statements. The goals need to be tangible and appropriate.
"There is a danger that fewer goals could narrow the provision. But at that age it is about observational assessment and not assessment-driven learning. If we can keep hold of that observational assessment, then I think there is less danger it will lead to narrowing the curriculum."
But the move to cut back the framework does not go far enough for some. David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said that his organisation is opposed to the statutory nature of the learning requirements in the EYFS, however slim it becomes.
"I would say that any professional practitioner working in early years would welcome the propositions to reduce the profile," he said. "It is very prescriptive and very complex and atomises young children's learning.
"But while I have no doubt that Dame Clare Tickell has heard that the EYFS has raised standards in poor settings, we would argue that it has become a straitjacket and frustrates practitioners in high-quality settings."
The changes could also increase the current six areas of learning - personal, social and emotional development; communication, language and literacy; physical development; creative development; knowledge and understanding of the world; and problem solving, reasoning and numeracy - to seven, by separating literacy from communication and language.
There is discussion over whether to create a "core" or "prime" learning area - consisting of personal, emotional and social development, communication and language and physical development - which is separate from the rest. All seven areas would be planned for all ages, but the emphasis would shift as children grew older.
TICKELL'S REACH - Areas of focus
The review of the EYFS by Dame Clare Tickell covers four main areas:
- Whether there should be a single framework for all early years providers.
- What the latest evidence says about learning and development and what is needed.
- Whether young children's development should be formally assessed at a certain age.
- The minimum welfare standards needed.
The report is due this term, and a consultation will be held on the proposals. Any changes will take effect from September 2012.
EYFS IN NUMBERS
69 - Early-learning goals, setting out expectations by the end of reception;
6 - Areas of learning and development in the EYFS;
13 - Assessment scales covering the six areas comprising the early years;
9 - Points on each scale;
117 - Statements in the EYFS profile.