The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old. All schools and Ofsted-registered early years providers must follow the EYFS, including childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes.

In July 2018, the Department of Education published their plans on changes to EYFS.

In response to this situation, a group of early years organisations, including the Montessori Group, worked together to communicate their concerns to ministers and ensure that any changes to the EYFS benefit as fully as possible from the knowledge and expertise within the sector.  This included carrying out a review of recent evidence, co-funded by the Montessori Group, which was made available to Government.

We are surprised and disappointed that this research seems to have been ignored and the way in which the government is approaching this review.

We’re also concerned about whether parents are aware of the changes being executed by the government, which will define how their children aged between 0-5 are taught at nursery. We believe that parents need to know and want to encourage parents to share this with their networks to raise awareness of the changes.

It is unclear where the evidence comes from 

The review states it is based on conversations with and responses from early years experts. However, the review has come as a shock to the sector and it’s unclear who has been consulted. We are disappointed that it does not take into account recent robust research of over 3,000 early years practitioners, which was conducted in January 2020 in response to the government announcement that changes were to be made.

There are also figures used throughout the consultation, such as the numbers of words spoken by a certain age, sounds spoken by age, and the number of children toilet trained by age three, that seem to be without a source. These references should be explained before they become a part of the curriculum.

Play time hasn’t been given the weight it deserves

The nature of where play will sit within the curriculum is unclear. We – and parents – know that play is a powerful tool for learning for children at this young age and beyond, and can help children develop socially, emotionally and cognitively. Our recent research even found that 69% of parents think children should have more time for freedom and play at school. Within the review, play is described as something that can be carefully organised by practitioners through planned activities with some playful elements. But open-ended play is a key part of development, by giving children the freedom to play it teaches independence and creativity. We believe there should be a much stronger focus on play in early years settings than is currently described.

The guidance uses reductive language, undermining individuality  

The curriculum guidance has a strong focus on language around ‘falling behind’ and ‘not keeping up’. Within the sector, we’ve worked hard to move away from these generalisations and assumptions about children’s development. Children develop at different paces. Each child is unique and there is no standardised way or timeframe that your child may learn and grow. It’s important this language is not used. 

The guidance also talks about the effects of ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’ and how certain backgrounds will affect a child’s learning. Many examples seem to be out of date, and out of touch with a diverse society in 2020. The adult-led examples given such as jigsaw puzzles and theatre trips focus on adults saying a lot, rather than giving children autonomy or choice. This is in defiance of current educational thinking that stipulates that learning should be child-led.

There needs to be a permanent end to baseline testing  

While baseline testing has been postponed until 2021, next September, tests will measure your child’s capability in the first few weeks of school, when they are as young as three. Our recent research shows that 78% of parents think the pressures of the current education system, including testing from a young age, can have a negative impact on children.

There is no evidence that four-year-olds can be reliably tested, or that testing within the first few weeks of school will be beneficial for young children’s mental development.

Overall, parents and the sector deserve a say in how children are taught in their earliest years. At the least, they deserve to know what changes are being implemented and how it may affect the day to day lives of their children.

What can you do?

  • Share this article with your network
  • Find out more about the specific changes to curriculum areas here
  • Send us your thoughts on the changes by emailing reception@montessori.org.uk We will make sure your comments, thoughts and questions are passed onto government.