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What are the Changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage?

Last updated on 20th April 2023

‘EYFS’ is an acronym for Early Years Foundation Stage. It is a policy document, and guidance, which sets the standards for care and education of children from birth to five.

The ‘Early Years’ part of the title shows that this policy applies to the early years of a child’s life, whilst ‘Foundation Stage’ is there to suggest that this underpins the rest of the “Key stages” found in the National curriculum.

The EYFS is incredibly important; it is the stage in the early years of a child’s life in which the foundations for all further learning are laid down.

All schools and Ofsted-registered Early Years providers in England must follow the EYFS, including childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes.

There are different Early Years standards in:

  • Scotland (The Early Years Framework 2008, and Curriculum for Excellence).
  • Wales (National Minimum Standards for Regulated Childcare, Foundation Phase Curriculum).
  • Northern Ireland (Learning to Learn 2013, Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education 2018).

Many people will talk about ‘The EYFS’ as though it is a single policy, but it is actually made up of two different documents:

  • Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage.
  • Development Matters: non-statutory curriculum guidance for the early years foundation stage.

These documents are significantly different in content and application, and it’s important that you know the difference between them as well as what each of them is for.

  • The statutory framework is legally enforceable, and all Early Years providers must abide by the standards set out in it.
  • Development Matters is non-statutory. This means it is not the law that Early Years providers must use it. It is up to each provider whether or not they choose to use this document.
Early years foundation stage requires room for learning and developing

The statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage

“The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets the standards that all early years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe.”

The overarching principles guiding the statutory framework can be summarised as:

  • Unique Child – “Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured”.
  • Positive Relationships – “Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships”.
  • Enabling Environments – “Children learn and develop well in enabling environments with teaching and support from adults, who respond to their individual interests and needs and help them to build their learning over time. Children benefit from a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers”.
  • Learning and Development – “Importance of learning and development. Children develop and learn 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 (SEND).”

All providers in England must follow the statutory framework which is comprised of the following sections:

  • The learning and development requirements.
  • Assessment.
  • The safeguarding and welfare requirements.

The learning and development requirements include:

  • The areas of learning and development.
  • Educational programmes.
  • Early Learning Goals.
  • Learning and development considerations.

Assessment requirements include:

  • Progress check at age two.
  • Assessment at the start of the reception year – The Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA).
  • Assessment at the end of the EYFS – The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP).
  • Information to be provided to the local authority.

The safeguarding and welfare requirements include:

  • Child protection.
  • Suitable people.
  • Staff qualifications, training, support and skills.
  • Key person.
  • Staff:child ratios.
  • Health.
  • Managing children’s behaviour.
  • Safety and suitability of premises, environment and equipment.
  • Special educational needs.
  • Information and records.
  • Other legal duties.
Early years foundation stage requires adequate safeguarding

What are the changes to ages?

The previous version of the non-statutory guidance divided up the guidance for each area of development according to age groups.

There were six overlapping age ranges:

  • Birth–11 months.
  • 8–20 months.
  • 16–26 months.
  • 22–36 months.
  • 30–50 months.
  • 40–60+ months.

The revised EYFS Development Matters has reduced the number of age ranges. It now uses:

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

The reasoning behind fewer and broader age ranges is:

  • To avoid tracking activities that don’t contribute to child development.
  • To recognise that children develop at different rates.
  • To simplify tracking.
  • To allow more space for professional judgement.
Early years foundation stage show children develop at different rates

The 2021 Development Matters

The 2021 Development Matters was underpinned by four guiding principles:

  • A unique child.
  • Positive relationships.
  • Enabling environments.
  • Learning and development.

The 2021 statutory framework upholds these four principles (p.6) and the Development Matters also features “seven key features of effective practice” which are:

  • The best for every child.
  • High-quality care.
  • The curriculum: what we want children to learn.
  • Pedagogy: helping children to learn.
  • Assessment: checking what children have learnt.
  • Self-regulation and executive function.
  • Partnership with parents.

The ‘characteristics of effective teaching and learning’ remain the same:

  • Playing and exploring – Children investigate and experience things, and ‘have a go’.
  • Active learning – Children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements.
  • Creating and thinking critically – Children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.
Children experiencing playing outside

English as an additional language

Revised EYFS specifically mentions children with EAL

Providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning. Providers must support children’s language development at home. Providers must also ensure that children have sufficient opportunities to learn and reach a good standard in English language during the EYFS.

Assessment of language and literacy skills practitioners must assess children’s skills in English but explore language and literacy skills in home language alongside this to establish whether there is a language delay across the board or only in English.

Approaches to the EYFS

  • The framework is non-prescriptive in terms of curriculum and teaching approach.
  • Play is seen as essential for development.
  • Practitioners should decide what they want children in their setting to learn and how to teach it.
  • The framework demands a greater focus on teaching the essential skills and knowledge in the specific areas of learning while in Reception Year in order to prepare for Year 1.

Safeguarding children

Safeguarding has always been a key part of the EYFS; keeping children safe is very important.

All providers must have regard for the government’s statutory guidance:

  • Working Together to Safeguard Children.
  • Revised Prevent duty guidance: for England and Wales.

All schools must also use Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance, and other childcare providers may also find it helpful to refer to this guidance.

The ‘Prevent duty’ guidance is clearly highlighted as part of the safeguarding and welfare requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

  • The Prevent duty became law in 2015.
  • This is a duty on all registered Early Years providers to have due regard to preventing people being drawn into terrorism.
  • Practitioners must be aware of signs of radicalisation, or reasons for concern.
  • British values are a set of four values introduced specifically to counter extremism. These should be promoted in all Early Years settings and are: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.
Practitioners must be aware of signs of radicalisation

Qualifications, ratios and the key person


Qualifications guidance remains the same as previous versions of the EYFS:

  • The manager must hold at least a Level 3 qualification and have two years of relevant experience.
  • There must be a named deputy.
  • At least half of all other staff must hold at least an approved Level 2 qualification.
  • At least one person on site must hold a full paediatric first aid certificate.
  • All newly qualified entrants to the Early Years workforce who have completed a Level 2 and/or Level 3 qualification on or after 30 June 2016, must also have either a full PFA or an emergency PFA certificate within three months of starting work in order to be included in the required staff:child ratios.


Ratios remained unchanged from the previous guidance:

  • Under 2s – 1:3.
  • 2-year-olds – 1:4.
  • 3-year-olds – 1:8.
  • Approved level 6, EYTS or QTS: 1:13.
  • Reception class in maintained schools or academies: 1:30.

Key person

Each child must be assigned a key person:

  • To ensure that every child’s care is tailored to meet their individual needs.
  • To help the child become familiar with the setting.
  • To offer a settled relationship for the child.
  • To build a relationship with their parents.
Key person helping a young boy with his work

Changes to oral health promotion

A key change to the safeguarding and welfare requirements is the addition of oral health promotion. Good oral health habits need to be formed from the earliest age.

Tooth decay is a serious problem among young children; nearly 25% of five-year-olds in England have tooth decay, with children from deprived backgrounds being the most likely to suffer from it. Tooth extraction is one of the most common procedures for children under six in hospital and is the most common reason for hospital admissions for children aged six to ten.

Providers are NOT required to carry out supervised tooth brushing, though they can choose to.

Minor changes to the safeguarding and welfare requirements

Other minor changes to the safeguarding and welfare requirements:

  • The term ‘Local Safeguarding Partners (LSP)’ replaces ‘Local Safeguarding Children Board’ but there is no change to expected practice.
  • A reminder about the importance of appropriate information sharing to keep children safe.
  • Re-emphasises the focus on online safety.
  • Recruitment providers have to undertake checks where anyone who may have contact with children is suitable.
  • You can employ someone while waiting for a DBS if they are supervised.
  • Equality Act 2010 requirements have been explicitly added to the framework.
  • Children must be suitably supervised at all times; new inclusion of specifically ‘while eating’.
  • E-cigarettes and vaping are not allowed.
  • Clarification that “Sleeping children must be frequently checked to ensure that they are safe. Being safe includes ensuring that cots/bedding are in good condition and suited to the age of the child, and that infants are placed down to sleep safely in line with latest government safety guidance.”
Baby being safely put into a cot

Early learning goals

The Early Learning Goals (ELGs) summarise what children should know and be able to do by the end of reception class. The ELGs should not be used as a ‘curriculum’. The ELGs should not be used by providers who do not have children in their Reception Year but are provided for reference.

The ELGs should be used as an assessment during the summer term of the Reception Year. There are ELGs in all seven areas of development.

There are 17 ELGs.

The Department for Education (DfE) has stated that the changes to the ELGs intend to:

  • Make all 17 ELGs clearer, more specific and easier for teachers to make accurate judgements.
  • Focus on strengthening language and vocabulary development to particularly support disadvantaged children.
  • Strengthen literacy and numeracy outcomes to ensure all children have a good grasp of these areas of learning in preparation for Year 1.
  • Ensure the ELGs are based on the latest evidence in childhood development.
  • Ensure they reflect the strongest predictors of future attainment.

The changes to the ELGs are the main changes to the EYFS:

  • ‘Personal, Social and Emotional Development’ now contains ‘Self-Regulation’, ‘Building Relationships’, and ‘Managing Self’.
  • ‘Physical Development’ is now ‘Fine Motor Skills’ and ‘Gross Motor Skills’.
  • ‘Communication and Language’ has lost one ELG, with ‘Understanding’ being merged into ‘Listening, Attention, and Understanding’.
  • ‘Literacy’ has changed from two ELGs: ‘Reading’ and ‘Writing’, to three: ‘Comprehension’, ‘Word Reading’, and ‘Writing’.
  • ‘Mathematics’ replaces ‘Shape, Space and Measure’ with ‘Numerical Patterns’.
  • ‘Understanding of the World’ has split the world into ‘Past and Present’ ‘People, Culture and Communities’ and ‘The Natural World’, and removed ‘Technology’.

The government have justified the changes to the ELGs in terms of focussing on later educational outcomes:

  • Mathematics includes greater clarity to counting and comparing quantities in the Numerical Patterns ELG.
  • Number and numerical patterns within the mathematics ELGs are believed to be the strongest predictor for later maths outcomes.
  • The government says this reflects their continued commitment to strengthening the teaching of early numeracy.
  • Strengthening numeracy teaching is to ensure that all children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are able to start Year 1 with a strong and confident foundation in number.
  • Starting focus on reading earlier to ensure that all children start Year 1 with a good foundation.
Children learning to read


  • Assessment should be both formative and summative.
  • Formative assessment can take place through practitioner observation and may or may not be recorded. It should be ongoing and inform planning.
  • The non-statutory guidance Development Matters contains observation checkpoints in each section to help practitioners check on children’s progress within each stage.
  • The observation checkpoints can help practitioners to notice whether a child is “at risk of falling behind”. By monitoring a child’s progress closely, decisions about what sort of extra help is needed can be made.
  • Observation checkpoints are phrased as a list of questions to make them easy to understand, e.g. Is the baby using speech sounds (babbling) to communicate with adults? Around 12 months, is the baby beginning to use single words like mummum, dada, tete (teddy)? Around 15 months, can the baby say around 10 words (they may not all be clear)? Around 18 months, is the toddler using a range of adult-like speech patterns (jargon) and at least 20 clear words?
  • Summative assessment should take place at three main points; the progress check at age two, Reception Baseline Assessment and the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile.

Assessment – Two-year progress check

The two-year progress check was introduced as a statutory requirement in September 2012. There have been no changes to this requirement as part of the revised EYFS.

  • Practitioners must review children’s progress between the ages of two and three.
  • Parents/carers must be provided with a short written summary of their child’s development in the prime areas of learning.
  • The purpose of the two-year check is to help identify strengths and any areas where progress is less than expected.
  • If there are significant emerging concerns, or an identified special educational need or disability, practitioners should develop a targeted plan to support the child’s future learning.
  • Practitioners can decide what (if anything) else to include in the written report alongside progress in the prime areas.
  • The progress check is sometimes called “The integrated review at age two” because practitioners should encourage parents and/or carers to share information from the progress check with other relevant professionals, including their health visitor.
  • Where possible, the progress check and the Healthy Child Programme health and development review at age two (when health visitors gather information on a child’s health and development) should inform each other.

Assessment – Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA)

The Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) is a short assessment, taken in the first six weeks in which a child starts reception class (regardless of whether they start in September, January, or April).

The Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) is a statutory assessment from September 2021 onwards. RBA provides a snapshot of where pupils are when they arrive at school.

It is intended to measure the progress schools make with their pupils between reception and the end of primary school. The RBA and its data should not be used for any other purpose apart from the progress measure.

The RBA is not suitable as a formative or diagnostic assessment. There is no expected standard and children cannot pass or fail.

The assessment can be carried out by a teacher, teaching assistant, Early Years practitioner or any other trained education professional, who should be familiar with the child taking the assessment.

Assessment – Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP)

The EYFSP is a statutory requirement. It must be completed no later than 30th of June in the academic year in which the child turns five.

The EYFSP must be completed whether the child is in a registered childminder setting, private day nursery or school in the school year in which they turn five.

The EYFSP should provide parents and carers, practitioners and teachers with information about the child’s knowledge, understanding and abilities, their attainment against expected levels, and their readiness for Year 1.

Each child’s level of development must be assessed against the Early Learning Goals (ELGs). Practitioners must indicate whether children are meeting expected levels of development.

Year 1 teachers must be given a copy of the Profile report. The EYFSP must be completed for all children, including those with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).

Early Years providers must report EYFSP results to local authorities, upon request. Local authorities are under a duty to return this data to the relevant government department.

A change to the EYFSP from September 2021 is that each ELG is judged as either ‘met’ or ‘not met’ rather than ‘emerging’, ‘expected’ or ‘exceeding’. LAs will no longer be required to moderate 25% of schools on their EYFSP

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About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.

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