EYFS deserves a chance to mature

Ravi Chandiramani
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This week marks the second anniversary of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the curriculum for under-fives.

It is curren­tly subject to a government-commissioned review led by Dame Clare Tickell, which is calling for evidence until the end of September. She reports her findings next spring.

There was plenty of carping around the launch of EYFS two years ago, when it was dubbed by the press as the "nappy curriculum". Nursery staff were caricatured as carrying clipboards around to assess children. Since then, things seem to have settled down. EYFS is certainly prescriptive, with four guiding principles and no less than 69 learning goals.

The review will need to question forensically which elements work for practitioners and ultimately young children, and which blatantly don’t. It will need to address also how EYFS applies to groups that have found it particularly difficult to accommodate. Chief among these are Montessori nurseries, play workers and childminders.

Hoards of childminders have left the profession in the past two years, although the decline had started well before the curriculum’s arrival. If they are to remain included in the framework, then they will require more training and support. If it is decided to exempt childminders altogether, that will in theory provide parents with a clearer choice between a structured learning framework for their children and a "home-from-home" experience that many say they prefer – provided the childminders actually exist to present parents with a genuine choice.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems pledged to at least slim down the EYFS prior to the election and a big theme of this government is to help professionals to get on with their jobs. Think tank the Centre for Policy Studies has gone further in calling for it to be abolished.

Not wishing to pre-empt Dame Clare’s review, but this would surely be an all-or-nothing, over-the-top response. After all, a report out last week on practitioners’ experiences of EYFS (commissioned by the previous government) found that, while there were plenty of concerns with the curriculum, most wanted it to continue, with, apparently "as little revision as possible", and it found that it has "contributed to the professionalism of the workforce".

In the course of the government’s determination to reduce bureaucracy, the EYFS review should not, to use a cliché, throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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