« More blog articles
What is the EYFS framework banner

What Is the EYFS Framework and How Has It Changed?

Posted on: July 20, 2023

The early years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework sets standards for children’s learning, development and welfare from birth to five years old. These standards, which must be met by school and childcare providers, were created to make sure that young children develop and learn safely.

The EYFS statutory framework for EYFS aims to help young children stay safe while gaining new skills and supporting their learning and holistic development.

The EYFS framework is intended to help every child achieve the best possible start in life with a supporting system that can help them reach their full potential. Children develop and learn at a rapid speed in their early years, and their first five years have a large impact on their futures. A critical factor to a positive learning start is through a secure and happy childhood, which typically comes from a loving home life and high-quality early learning opportunities.

This framework is essential in properly shaping children's early education and provides a solid foundation for them to build upon. By setting the standards for the early years of learning and development, the EYFS framework contributes significantly to a child’s educational journey.

Changes to the EYFS framework over time have ensured that it remains relevant and effective in meeting young children’s developmental needs. Updates to the framework aim to address contemporary challenges and incorporate new understandings and practices in early education.

Curious about the EYFS framework’s key elements and its seven areas of learning? Wondering how changes to this framework have influenced early years education? Let's discover the answers together in our deep dive into the world of EYFS.

What are the four guiding principles for EYFS practitioners?

There are four main guiding principles for EYFS practitioners, as outlined by GOV.UK. They reflect the framework’s dynamic nature and its capacity to adapt and evolve to better support children's development.

  • Recognise every child as unique: Understanding and acknowledging each child’s individuality is crucial. Children, who are always learning, can grow to be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.
  • Foster positive relationships for independence: Developing strong and positive relationships is a key part of helping children learn and grow. These relationships encourage them to become more independent and establish a sense of self.
  • Create enabling environments for learning and development: An environment that supports individual interests and needs significantly enhances children's learning. In such nurturing spaces, adults guide children, enabling them to gradually construct their knowledge and understanding.
  • Celebrate the individual pace and learning style: This principle underlines the fact that children learn and develop at their own pace. The EYFS framework caters to all children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). It’s designed to ensure every child receives the support they need.

NEW Little Minds Matter Free Guide

NEW Little Minds Matter Guide | FREE

This new guide is the second from our Little Minds Matter series which brings together leading early years practitioners to write on the vital subject of children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

The guide includes five chapters from the next five books in our series, covering the diverse topics of building positive relationships with children; safeguarding; neuroscience in practice; how creativity can support wellbeing; and the power of anti-racist practice and professional love

Get your free guide >

What are the EYFS seven areas of learning and development?

The main focus of EYFS is learning and development. As such, the EYFS has highlighted three prime areas and four specific areas of learning and development that childcare providers must center children’s activities and experiences around.

Below is a breakdown of these seven total areas outlined by the EYFS:

Communication and language development 1. Communication and language development

Enabling children to develop their language and communication skills is an essential early learning goal that forms the foundation of the EYFS framework.

EYFS practitioners must provide an environment that encourages quality conversation between adults and young children to build a language-rich childhood. This can be done by speaking with children about their interests or repeating what the children have said back to them with new words. Additional activities include reading to children, storytelling and role play and asking a variety of questions to engage with them. This empowers children to learn new sentence structures, vocabulary and ideas in a supportive learning atmosphere.

A great resource for communication and language development is Stephen Parsons & Anna Branagan's Word Aware 2: Teaching Vocabulary in the Early Years which supports Early Years practitioners in the provision of effective vocabulary development in preschool children of all abilities.

Personal, social and emotional development 2. Personal, social and emotional development

Personal, social and emotional development, also known as PSED, is an essential part of children’s social skills, mental health and cognitive development. PSED can help young children learn to identify and understand their different feelings, which is an important skill that shapes their social world.

Adults should model and guide children to manage their emotions, set goals and build confidence in their own abilities. Children’s social skills should also be supported through interactions with other children, which can teach them how to form positive relationships, cooperate with others and resolve issues constructively.

Physical development 3. Physical development

Children have a lot of energy, so it’s not very difficult to get them to be active. However, the underlying aim of this learning area is to help children achieve and learn how to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle right from the start.

Gross and fine motor skills develop slowly and begin with sensory and strength activities that then lead to coordination, positional awareness and play movement. EYFS practitioners should incorporate indoor and outdoor games to help engage children’s physical development in early childhood.

If you want additional information on how to engage with children’s creative play in the outdoors, a helpful resource is Julie Johnson and Ann Watts’s Developing Creativity and Curiosity Outdoors.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more sensory play experiences, consider Sue Gascoyne’s Messy Play in the Early Years.

Literacy 4. Literacy

Literacy covers two main learning objectives: language comprehension and word readings. It’s crucial that children are introduced to new words, stories, reading and writing opportunities from an early age to set a solid foundation for future learning.

Adults should read with children and teach them about new rhymes, poems and songs. Similarly, they can incorporate books for young children to teach word reading that works out the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and recognition of familiar words. Writing should include spelling and handwriting practice, as well as composition to teach them sentence structure and idea articulation.

For additional techniques to help young boys develop writing skills, take a look at Julie Cigman’s Supporting Boys’ Writing in the Early Years. Learn how to encourage them to become confident and capable writers.

Mathematics 5. Mathematics

Children should be guided through the early learning objectives of numbers, as well as shapes and spaces to help develop their mathematical skills.

EYFS providers must teach children how to understand and use numbers one through 10 with confidence. Through mathematical activities, such as using building blocks or pebbles to count and organize, children can develop spatial reasoning skills and look for patterns and connections. With a positive environment, the child can learn confidently.

A great resource for mathematics is Di Chilvers’ How to Recognise and Support Mathematical Mastery in Young Children’s Play, which provides practical guidance tips.

Understanding the world 6. Understanding the world

This learning area asks adults to assist children to observe and understand the physical world around them and their community. By increasing a child’s interactions with new places, ideas and technology, adults can help them increase their awareness and knowledge beyond their home.

Some activities to incorporate into daily life include visiting parks, libraries and museums to meet new people and see novel places. Another great activity is to share stories from a broad range of perspectives and places.

Take a look at Sarah Watkin's Outdoor Play for Healthy Little Minds: Practical Ideas to Promote Children’s Wellbeing in the Early Years which includes adaptable and cost-effective activities designed to help children feel more confident and connected to the world around them.

Expressive arts and design 7. Expressive arts and design

A key method to support a child’s imagination and creativity is to develop their awareness of art and culture.

Adults can encourage the children's artistic sides by helping them engage with new activities that feature a variety of media and materials. From drawing to painting to playing instruments, allowing children to express themselves and communicate through art is an extremely positive developmental activity.

Learn how to foster and inspire children’s imaginations with Ruksana Mohammed’s Creative Learning in the Early Years.

Understanding who the EYFS framework is for and where it applies

The EYFS framework is a crucial tool designed for an array of early years providers. It applies primarily to childminders, maintained nurseries, pre-schools, infant schools and the reception year in primary schools across the U.K. — offering comprehensive guidance for fostering robust learning and development for children from birth to five years old.

In England, all maintained schools and settings — which includes nurseries, pre-schools, and primary schools with reception classes — must implement the EYFS framework. This mandate is set forth by Section 40 of the Childcare Act 2006, ensuring that early education experiences offered in these settings are broad, balanced and consistent.

Private nurseries and registered childminders, while not state-funded, also fall within the purview of the EYFS. These providers must adhere to the EYFS assessment and reporting arrangements. Although there may be exemptions for these settings from the EYFS learning and development requirements for children aged three and over, they’re nevertheless expected to ensure a nurturing environment that facilitates robust early learning.

As of 2023, the EYFS framework places an increased emphasis on communication and language development. It offers actionable insights on how to support and enhance these critical skills in young children, highlighting the role of enriching interactions and meaningful conversations in fostering a child's confidence, cognitive development and social skills.

Why the EYFS framework continues to evolve

The United Kingdom implemented the EYFS as statutory in 2008 for children in response to research that showed the correlation between quality childcare and children’s future learning and development. Since then, the framework has gone through several changes and updates, including in 2012 and as recently as September 1, 2021 and again in 2023.

Why does the EYFS framework keep changing? Simply put, it's because the field of early childhood education itself is ever-evolving, and our understanding of how young minds learn and develop is continually deepening. These updates aim to better support children's early learning and development by implementing the latest research findings and feedback from experienced educators and childcare providers.

For instance, the 2021 revision saw a significant shift in the framework which reduced the number of early learning goals from 69 to 17. This revision also simplified the assessment that’s required at age five and provides earlier intervention for any child who requires additional support with a progress check at two years old. Moreover, the need for written risk assessments for all activities was reconsidered, alleviating some administrative burden.

In a proactive move as part of the 2023 Budget, the government affirmed several important changes to the EYFS statutory framework that will affect group-based early years settings. One of the key changes was the increase in the adult-to-child ratio for two-year-olds, moving from 1:4 to 1:5. This adjustment was made following extensive consultation in 2022 and was aimed at ensuring that early years settings remain manageable and effective in fostering children's development.

Another noteworthy modification concerns childminders. The updated EYFS framework has clarified that childminders can now care for more than the specified maximum of three children under the age of five in certain scenarios. These circumstances include instances where childminders are caring for siblings of children they already look after or if the childminders are with their own baby or child. This change offers increased flexibility and supports families in accessing consistent, quality care. Lastly, the EYFS has made explicit a new guideline concerning children's mealtimes. The framework will now stipulate that 'adequate supervision' while children are eating requires children to be within an adult’s sight and hearing. This amendment shows the commitment to children's safety and well-being at all times.

The new early years foundation stage (EYFS) framework can be found here.

Additional Resources from Routledge

Whether you’re an experienced educator or a new childcare provider, staying updated with the changes in the EYFS framework is crucial. It ensures you're able to continue fostering an environment that supports children's early learning and development in the best possible way.

Take the initiative to delve deeper, enhance your knowledge and stay at the forefront of early education best practices. Be sure to explore our carefully-curated selection of EYFS books, and equip yourself with the resources necessary to navigate the dynamic landscape of early years education with confidence and competence.