Changes to the EYFS 2021

Children drawing

The Department for Education has published the updated Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework for 2021.

The new statutory framework applies from 1 September 2021. 

Read it here: Early years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework

Or you can read a summary of the EYFS changes here.

The government says the changes will improve outcomes for all children, but particularly the language and literacy outcomes for disadvantaged children and reduce teacher workload. 

To help get ready for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) changes in September 2021 the DfE has launched guidance, practical support and resources for childminders, nursery leaders and pre-school practitioners.

Explore the resource here

The DfE has also written a letter to the sector with some updates including a summary of EYFS changes.

Read the letter here

What is changing?

The DfE says that the proposals are intended 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.

Educational programmes

The DfE said that it would make a number of changes to the reformed education programmes including:

  • PSED will include additional information on self-care and healthy eating.
  • Physical Development will be strengthened to include a greater focus on development from birth to reception and on the link between gross and fine motor skills.
  • Literacy will include a stronger emphasis on pre-reception literacy learning, and the link between language comprehension and later reading and writing.
  • Mathematics will include a greater detail on the importance of shapes, spatial reasoning and measure as part of early maths learning, and how children can foster a love of maths.
  • Understanding the World will include wider experiences for children.
  • Expressive Arts and Design will include a wider variety of ways children can develop their creative skills.

The Communication and language programme will remain as originally proposed.

Early Learning Goals

The proposed changes to the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) will also go ahead, largely as planned, with the following changes made:

  • Communication and Language will include focus on adult-child interactions, and the word ‘accurate’ has been removed from the Speaking ELG when referring to tenses.
  • Mathematics will include greater clarity to counting and comparing quantities in the Numerical Patterns ELG. Government will proceed with its focus on number and numerical patterns within the mathematics ELGs as the strongest predictor for later maths outcomes. This also reflects government’s continued commitment to strengthen the teaching of early numeracy so that all children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are able to start year 1 with a strong and confident foundation in number. Practitioners and teachers will still be required to teach children about shape, space and measures, as part of a well-rounded curriculum, as set out in the revised mathematics educational programme.
  • Understanding the World will include a change in relation to the Past and Present ELG to further clarify the expectation of children understanding the concept of ‘past’.
  • Expressive Arts and Design will include reference to a greater variety of use of tools, materials and techniques that children will need to demonstrate for the Creating with Materials ELG.

The ELGs for Personal, Social and Emotional Development; Physical Development; and Literacy will remain as proposed.

EYFSP moderation

The proposal to remove the statutory duty for local authorities to moderate the EYFSP in 25% of schools each year will go ahead.

Schools will still be required to submit EYFSP data to their local authority and this will still be collected nationally.

Exceeding judgement

The government will proceed with plans to remove the “exceeding” judgement criteria from the EYFSP and says that this will “free up teachers’ time”.

Teachers will be expected to continue to identify and stretch more able children.

Oral health

A need to include oral health alongside the requirement to “promote the good health of children” will be added to the EYFS framework.

Individual settings and schools will need to determine how to meet this requirement and practitioners will not be required to assess this.

Protected characteristics

The DfE says that it will work with sector experts to review the EYFSP Handbook and ensure that it is clear on how practitioners should complete the Profile for children with SEND, EAL and who are summer-born, including signposting to additional advice and support where appropriate.

Development Matters

On 20 July 2021, the DfE published a revised version of Development Matters, government’s non-statutory curriculum guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), to reflect feedback received from Early Adopter schools that have adopted the reforms to the EYFS over the 2020/21 academic year.

The changes to content are minor and providers will not need to alter any planning based on the September 2020 version that they may have already made.

These minor changes include:

  • updated links, making minor tweaks to wording for clarification purposes,
  • updates to the Introduction and Characteristics of Effective Teaching and Learning sections to ensure the wording is aligned with the aims of the reforms and reflects the most recent research and evidence and,
  • ensuring the document is accessible, inclusive, and easier to navigate which includes a new design, layout and colour coding.

No major changes have been made to the curriculum guidance under the seven areas of learning and therefore this update should not impact planning based on the early adopter version of Development Matters.

From September 2021 onwards, early years providers and schools will need to use the new version of the EYFS Framework when the reforms will be implemented nationally.

Birth to 5 Matters

On 31 March 2021 the new Birth to 5 Matters guidance was launched by the Early Years Coalition following six months of consultation and input from across the early years sector.

The new non-statutory guidance outlines the foundations of good practice and offers information and guidance for practitioners to consider how the Principles of the EYFS can be brought to life in their setting, while new sections on play, characteristics of effective learning, and self-regulation are designed to help practitioners to reflect on and develop their own pedagogy.

You can buy a copy or download it for free.

Virtual Classroom EYFS sessions


DfE's Help for early years providers


Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (2021)

Development Matters 

Birth to 5 Matters

Buy hard copies from our Shop:

Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (2021)

Development Matters

Birth to 5 Matters


Watch the webinar!

Introducing the new Development Matters


The Alliance's view

Commenting on the publication of the new EYFS, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said:

"While we recognise that a review of the EYFS was necessary given that it has been a decade since the last was undertaken, we remain disappointed at how closed the entire process has been and the lack of any meaningful engagement with the sector.

"Rather than reinforcing the need for and value of a child-centred approach to early years practice, the new framework appears to represent a shift towards a much more formal approach to provision, and one where the EYFS is seen as preparation for Key Stage 1, rather than a vital stage in and of itself.

"The Alliance will continue to support the sector to implement and deliver the new framework in a way that reflects the critical importance of a broad, child-centred approach, underpinned by a commitment to learning through play – practice that we as a sector know is best for supporting early development."

The Alliance has previously expressed its concerns that the upcoming changes could result in a ‘tick-box’ approach to early assessment on the issue.

Specifically, we are concerned the proposal to replace the existing Early Learning Goals (ELGs) into a series of bullet point statements will inadvertently promote a ‘tick-box’ approach to EYFSP assessment and risk moving children’s learning and development, and the early years practice that supports it, from an art to a science, a shift that is a “retrograde step. 

We have also expressed a number of other concerns about the reforms, including: 

  • A lack of focus on the learning and development of younger children – despite the fact that the EYFS covers children from 0-5 – due to an emphasis on preparing children for Year 1
  • Lack of reference to how best to support the learning and development of children speaking English as an additional language and children with additional needs and/or disabilities
  • The reduction of the number of Communication and language ELGs from three to two
  • The removal of space, shape and measure from the Mathematics ELG.

Read more on our blogWhy the DfE's proposed changes to the early learning goals are flawed


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