Early Years Foundation Stage

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is the statutory framework for Early Years education in England. The term was defined in Section 39 of the British government's Childcare Act 2006.[1] The equivalents in Wales and Scotland are the Foundation Phase and the Early Years Framework.

The EYFS has been periodically updated since its introduction. The latest version was published in March 2021 for implementation in September 2021. This framework consists of three sections: The Learning and Development Requirements, Assessment and The Safeguarding and Welfare Requirements.[2]

Areas of learningEdit

All pupils in the Early Years must follow a programme of education in seven areas, divided into 'prime areas' and 'specific areas'.[2]

The three prime areas:

  • communication and language
  • physical development
  • personal, social and emotional development

The four specific areas:

  • literacy
  • mathematics
  • understanding the world
  • expressive arts and design


The Childcare Act makes provision for exemptions from the Learning and development requirements for

  1. settings, under section 46(1)
  2. children individually, under section 46(2)

The circumstances under which exemptions may be granted are to be stipulated in the Early Years Foundation Stage (Exemptions from Learning and Development Requirements) Order, which as of 20 June 2008 had not yet been laid before Parliament.

Consultation and DebatesEdit

The Department for Children, Schools and Families conducted a consultation[3][4] on the EYFS Learning and Development Exemptions, between 1 March and 24 May 2007. Respondents were invited[5] to give their views on the circumstances accepted as possible grounds for exemption and the process by which exemptions could be obtained.

The proposed circumstances were:

a. Providers who lack the capacity to meet the full requirements, but should be able to do so within a specified time period, given access to the necessary support and/or training.
b. Providers who base their provision on alternative approaches which conflict with the statutory requirements with respect to learning and development.
c. To meet the needs of individual children in provision which otherwise provides the full EYFS to all other children.

The DCSF response to the consultation[6] considered the first and third circumstances only:

... there may be instances where providers are temporarily unable to deliver the EYFS, but are making every effort to do so within a short period. In such circumstances, our view is that it would be disproportionate not to allow for a time-limited exemption. Similarly, there may be circumstances in which the EYFS, or some element of it, cannot be delivered for an individual child.

Opponents of the EYFS have argued that some of the Learning and Development targets are not appropriate for this age group.[7][8][9] Opponents claimed in the media that attempting to push under-5s into early literacy is ineffective[10] or even counterproductive,[9][11] possibly even producing reading difficulties in some children through the experience of early failure,[12] and other problems[13] including ADHD.[14] These critics point to education systems in other countries where children start school at a later age but produce good academic results by the end of compulsory education.[15][7] These media criticisms have been undermined by academic research showing that comprehensive approaches to early years education which, like the EYFS, include direct teaching of phonemic awareness, phonics, and other skills along with child-initiated activities produce better outcomes than purely play-based approaches.[16] Similarly, a review of the academic research by the Education Endowment Foundation has found that "beginning early years education at a younger age appears to have a high positive impact on learning outcomes".[17]

Some people have also claimed that the curriculum is too prescriptive,[18] criticising the burdensome nature of the assessments demanded of children[19] and stress inflicted upon young children by the curriculum[7] and assessment (as with SATs for older children).[20]

In responding to critics' submissions to the consultation, the DCSF pointed out that the EYFS is "sufficiently flexible to accommodate a range of early years approaches".


  1. ^ Childcare Act 2006 online pdf
  2. ^ a b "Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage" (PDF). Gov.uk. Department for Education. 31 March 2021. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  3. ^ DCSF EYFS Learning and Development Exemptions consultation web page Archived 8 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ EYFS Learning and Development Exemptions Consultation Document MS Word
  5. ^ EYFS Learning and Development Response Form MS Word
  6. ^ DCSF Response to L&D Exemptions consultation MS Word
  7. ^ a b c "England young 'among most tested'", BBC News, 2 February 2008, and "Primary schools exert unnecessary pressure on students: report" Archived 26 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine, AFP, 8 February 2008 (on reports of the Primary Review).
  8. ^ "Children 'too young for school at 4'", The Times, 28 February 2008 (on a report of the Primary Review).
  9. ^ a b Steve Biddulph,"Under-fives curriculum 'will harm children'"[dead link], The Daily Telegraph, 26 February 2008.
  10. ^ "Doubts over progress in early learning", The Guardian, 28 August 2007.
  11. ^ "UK children 'reading too early'", BBC News, 22 November 2007.
  12. ^ "Under-sevens 'too young to learn to read'", The Guardian, 22 November 2007.
  13. ^ "Problem caused by pushing them too much, too young", The Times, 23 January 2008.
  14. ^ "Playing with their minds" Archived 9 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine, TES, 1 February 2008.
  15. ^ "England falls in reading league", BBC News, 28 November 2007.
  16. ^ Chambers, Bette; Cheung, Alan C.K.; Slavin, Robert E. (2016). "Literacy and language outcomes of comprehensive and developmental-constructivist approaches to early childhood education: A systematic review". Educational Research Review. Elsevier BV. 18: 88–111. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2016.03.003. ISSN 1747-938X.
  17. ^ Education Endowment Foundation. "Earlier Starting Age". Early Years Toolkit. Archived from the original on 3 April 2021. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  18. ^ "Toddler curriculum criticised by European education expert", The Guardian, 15 November 2005.
  19. ^ "Is your baby playing with its toes yet? If not the government wants to know why", The Guardian, 14 March 2007.
  20. ^ "Primary children 'suffer stress'", BBC News, 12 October 2007.