Early Years Foundation Stage

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a term defined in Section 39 of the British government's Childcare Act 2006.[1] The EYFS comprises a set of Welfare Requirements and a set of Learning and Development Requirements,[2] which must be followed by providers of care for children below 5 years old – the age of compulsory education in the United Kingdom. The Welfare and Learning and Development requirements are not specified in the Act but in separate Orders.

The legislation took effect from September 2008. The Welfare requirements apply to the whole of the UK, but the Learning and Development requirements apply only in England.

All childcare providers, including childminders, nurseries, kindergartens and pre-school classes, are obliged to register under the Childcare Act in order to operate legally. To become and remain registered they must comply with the Welfare requirements, and with the L&D requirements for settings in England (except where exempted).

The Learning and Development requirements (applicable in England only) are unusual in principle in imposing compulsory educational targets

  1. for children below the age of compulsory education, and
  2. on providers outside the state system and not receiving state funding.

Learning and Development requirements controversy

The L&D targets are controversial in not being generally accepted by experts in child development and education as being appropriate for this age group.[3][4][5] They include literacy requirements that 5 year olds should:

There are similar levels of requirements for numeracy.

There is a body of professional opinion that attempting to push under-5s into early literacy is ineffective[6] or even counterproductive,[5][7] possibly even producing reading difficulties in some children through the experience of early failure,[8] and other problems[9] including ADHD.[10] It is reported that schools in Scandinavian and other countries,[11] and Steiner schools,[3] where children start school at 6 or 7 years old, produce better academic results.

Apart from the question of whether the L&D targets are appropriate for the age group, there is controversy over the prescriptive nature of the curriculum,[12] burdensome nature of the assessments of children they demand[13] and stress inflicted upon young children by the curriculum[3] and assessment (as with SATs to which older children are subjected).[14]


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.


The Department for Children, Schools and Families conducted a consultation[15][16] on the EYFS Learning and Development Exemptions, between 1 March and 24 May 2007. Respondents were invited[17] 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[18] 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.

"Flexibility" of EYFS

In the consultation document,[16] response form[17] and their consultation response[18] the DCSF asserts that "the EYFS is sufficiently flexible to accommodate a range of early years approaches".

Campaigns against EYFS

Despite the government's claims for the benefits and flexibility of the EYFS many educators and childcare experts have expressed concern about the impact of the EYFS and called for changes to it.


The OpenEYE campaign gives as reason for its formation:

Open EYE was set up in response to fears that the government’s new Early Years Foundation Stage is:
  • overly prescriptive
  • potentially harmful to the development of children
  • a breach of the human right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their own philosophies

The campaign was launched on 30 November 2007 with an open letter published in the Times Educational Supplement.[19] Signatories included Tim Brighouse, Margaret Edgington, Dr Richard House, Dr Penelope Leach and Sue Palmer. The letter and petition express concern at the "harm likely to be done to young children due to the framework’s contestable assumptions and unintended consequences" and calls for an "independent review of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) policy framework, and [reduction of] the status of its learning and development requirements to ‘professional guidelines’".[20] An Early Day Motion – No. 1031[21] – expresses similar claims and calls.

Save Steiner Schools

Steiner-Waldorf schools, kindergartens and representatives have been particularly concerned about the impact of the EYFS and have been campaigning against it. A group of parents of children at Wynstones Steiner-Waldorf school's kindergarten set up the Save Steiner Schools campaign[22] "to provide a focus for campaigning to stop the UK government forcing all Steiner Waldorf and other kindergartens and nurseries to implement the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements."

The Steiner-Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) has also been lobbying the DCSF, and latterly co-ordinating a campaign of parents at Steiner kindergartens and schools writing to their MPs about the issue.


  1. Childcare Act 2006 online pdf
  2. EYFS Learning and Development requirements online pdf
  3. 1 2 3 Times 08/02/2008: "England young 'among most tested'" and AFP 08/02/2008: "Primary schools exert unnecessary pressure on students: report" on reports of the Primary Review
  4. Times 28 February 2008: "Children 'too young for school at 4'" on a report of the Primary Review
  5. 1 2 Telegraph 26 February 2008: "Under-fives curriculum 'will harm children'" Steve Biddulph on EYFS
  6. Guardian 28 August 2007: "Doubts over progress in early learning"
  7. BBC News 22 November 2007: "UK children 'reading too early'"
  8. Guardian 22 November 2007: "Under-sevens 'too young to learn to read'"
  9. Times 23 January 2008: "Problem caused by pushing them too much, too young"
  10. TES 01/02/2008: "Playing with their minds"
  11. BBC News 28 November 2007: "England falls in reading league"
  12. Guardian 15 November 2005: "Toddler curriculum criticised by European education expert"
  13. Guardian 14 March 2007: "Is your baby playing with its toes yet? If not the government wants to know why"
  14. BBC News 12/10/2007: "Primary children 'suffer stress'"
  15. DCSF EYFS Learning and Development Exemptions consultation web page
  16. 1 2 EYFS Learning and Development Exemptions Consultation Document MS Word
  17. 1 2 EYFS Learning and Development Response Form MS Word
  18. 1 2 DCSF Response to L&D Exemptions consultation MS Word
  19. Tim Brighouse, et al., We call for review of early years law, The Times Educational Supplement, 30 November 2007. Accessed 2008-10-25.
  20. Anthea Lipsett, Experts blast 'distorted' early learning plans, The Guardian, 30 November 2007. Accessed 2008-10-25.
  22. Save Steiner Schools campaign
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