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Why allow independent schools exemptions when they are apparently doing an excellent job of delivering the EYFS?

Many independent schools follow the EYFS with few problems, and can see the benefits of this type of framework for younger children. However, others are keen to offer the type of education that parents are requesting, which is not prescribed by the state. We feel that if independent schools are already delivering good-quality provision that parents want, they should be able to choose whether the EYFS learning and development requirements are right for them. This would be a choice for schools to make and no school would be forced to opt out of the EYFS learning and development requirements if they don’t wish to do so.

If independent schools are rated so highly, why not exempt them all?

The Government is keen to drive up the quality of early years provision and we are safeguarding quality by only allowing good or better independent schools to opt for exemption. Other independent schools need to demonstrate they can reach this quality and meet all the EYFS learning and development requirements before they will be eligible to take up exemptions.

Why can they only get exemptions for children aged 3-5? Why not all children aged 0-5?

Independent schools have to meet the Independent Schools Standards, which apply to children aged 3 and upwards. Where they have a demonstrable track record in delivering good quality early years provision, then they are free to opt out of meeting the learning and development requirements of EYFS for these children. However, the ISS do not cover children under the age of 3 – so, if they too were covered by the exemption then children aged 0-2 in those schools would not be covered by any learning and development arrangements.

What about the free entitlement – won’t schools taking exemptions lose this funding?

The responsibility for securing free early education places rests with local authorities. They are required by law to secure places in providers delivering the EYFS and the statutory guidance says they should make a local decision on whether to fund provision that is exempt from the learning and development requirements of the EYFS.

We make it clear in guidance that any school taking up exemption from the EYFS learning and development requirements should consult the relevant LA and inform parents if the exemption is likely to have an impact on whether the school is able to offer the free entitlement.

Why only independent schools – what about Academies, Free Schools and private nurseries?

Independent schools are governed by the Independent School Standards (ISS) enabling inspection and information for parents on the quality of learning and development standards even though the EYFS requirements no longer apply. No such regulations exist for private nurseries or Academies and we feel it is important that a framework of learning and development continues to exist in these settings. We also know that most nurseries are happy to deliver the EYFS. Academies are state-funded and, as such, we feel it is right for them to deliver the Government’s Early Years Foundations Stage framework.

Why haven’t you extended exemptions to all settings within the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF), as Tickell recommended?

All schools within the SWSF will still be able to apply for exemptions in the same way as they have previously. SWSF that are registered as independent schools and have attained ‘good’ or better school inspection judgements against ‘overall effectiveness of the EYFS’, are be able to opt for full exemption like other independent schools. SWSF schools and kindergarten will no longer have to reapply after two years – their exemption will remain as long as they continue to meet the circumstances of their direction for exemption.

Does having no applications process for independent schools risk ‘rogue’ schools deciding to take up exemptions?

All schools which plan to take up exemptions under the proposed new route are still required to notify the Department of their intention. We will then notify inspectorates of this. Any schools which do not meet the quality threshold within the SoS direction will not be legally eligible for exemption, and will be notified as such. We also expect inspectorates and associations to notify us of any concerns they have around exempted schools if they do not feel they are meeting the conditions set out in the direction and we would subsequently take action if we have concerns.

With no renewals process, how can you be sure that providers still qualify for exemptions years down the line?

If eligibility criteria no longer apply, schools’ exemptions will immediately expire. Inspections and visits from associations (for example, the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship), will ensure that the Department and Inspectorates know which providers who are no longer eligible. We feel that the risks of this approach are far outweighed by the benefits of providers no longer needing to go through the process of gaining exemptions every two years.

Why was there a targeted consultation rather than a consultation open to everyone through the website like the EYFS framework?

We undertook a targeted rather than full public consultation because the changes affect a limited number of early years providers and it is these providers that need to comment on the proposals to inform the final policy. We targeted all the settings and associations likely to be affected by the new proposals for EYFS exemptions, including: all independent Schools; independent school associations; primary school organisations and representatives of academies; inspectorates; representative leading bodies of the early years and local authorities and providers that have applied for exemptions in previous years. Also the NCB made the consultation widely available to the sector.