The EYFS has changed – will this consequently alter the way people work, and will it impact workload?

The aim of these changes is to give early settings greater flexibility in how they utilise staff and will allow providers more choice over how they operate and make it easier for them to deliver the EYFS through the creation of tailored, slimmed down versions of the framework. Ministers believe these changes are a positive step for the sector and the intention is for practitioners to be able to focus on continuing to provide high-quality early education.

The January 2024 changes do not undo the education reforms made to the EYFS in 2021, and there are no significant changes being made to Section 1 or 2 of the EYFS, as was the focus of the 2021 reforms. Many of the changes bring in new minimum requirements for providers, meaning most of the changes are optional, so long as settings meet the minimum requirements, and settings can decide whether it is right and helpful for them to implement the changes in their settings. As ever, settings should think about what is needed to meet the needs of children in their care.

Will the removal of the requirement for Level 3 practitioners to hold a Level 2 Maths qualification reduce quality in Maths teaching?

We know that the previous requirement to hold a Level 2 Maths qualification, in addition to their approved early years level 3 qualification, could at times prevent settings from releasing the full potential of qualified and experienced staff to work in ratios. This change will enable all Level 3 practitioners to use their skills and experience to their full potential and give settings the necessary flexibility to deliver transformative childcare. Setting managers appointed on or after 4 January 2024 must hold a level 2 maths qualification, or they must achieve one within 2 years of starting in the position – make sure this is the case in your setting.

The Department recognises that it is vital for Maths to be taught to consistently high levels throughout a child’s education, including in the Early Years. This is why the DfE has invested in Maths training for early years practitioners and childminders through phase 3 of the Professional Development Programme and Early Years child development training as well as support for quality provision via the Stronger Practice Hubs and the Experts and Mentors programme.

What counts as a Level 2 maths qualification?

Suitable level 2 qualifications in maths are:

  • Functional skills qualification in maths at level 2
  • GCSE or International GCSE qualification in maths to at least grade C (grade 4)
  • Key skills qualification in application of number at level 2
  • A level or AS level qualification in maths or pure maths and/or further maths to at least grade E
  • O level qualification in maths to at least grade C
  • CSE grade 1 maths
  • Basic skills certificate level 2: certificate in adult numeracy

Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh equivalents are also recognised.

Do all managers have to hold level 2 in maths?

The Department is now making it clear that new managers of early years settings must hold a level 2 maths qualification. This is because we recognise that as the leaders of their settings, managers should have the skills and knowledge to ensure that learning is to a high standard. However, this change will not apply to managers currently in post, while they remain in their current position. Managers will also have a grace period of two years to gain a level 2 maths qualification when they start in a new position.

Early years settings determine their own employment terms and conditions. The Department has set out this requirement for managers, including the grace period of 2 years to gain the required maths qualification, and as with all workforce qualification requirements, settings will decide how they ensure the requirement is met.

Adults who don’t have a GCSE in maths at grade 4 (or equivalent) can study a range of qualifications for free through the Government’s Skills for Life guarantee. Skills for Life offers free qualifications, from entry level up to level 2.

What counts as a long-term student?

The EYFS is designed to ensure a safe and quality framework for early education/childcare but to still give providers sufficient flexibility to make decisions based on their own professional judgement and what is right for the children in their setting – while always providing care that is quality and safe.

It would be at the discretion of the setting manager to consider the staff in question and determine whether they meet the needs of the children and to ensure their safety. This would depend on the individual students and their level of competence, as well as parental concerns and the length of time they’ve been on a placement.

Will the maths requirements also be changing for T Levels and apprentices, and if so when?

The removal of the level 2 maths requirement for early years practitioners to work in ratios recognises the current barrier to realising the full potential of skilled and experienced staff. The T Level and apprenticeship maths requirements are set separately, and these have not been changed. The apprenticeship Maths and English requirements are set out in the Apprenticeship Funding Rules (page 20 onwards). DfE are keeping the maths requirements for apprenticeships under review to ensure we are striking the right balance in equipping apprentices with good maths skills without putting up unnecessary barriers to starting or completing an apprenticeship.

Has the Paediatric First Aid requirement changed?  

The paediatric first aid (PFA) requirement has remained the same, but the language has been changed to ensure clarity that the PFA certificate must be renewed every 3 years in order for level 2 and level 3 members of staff who gained their qualification since 30 June 2016 to be included in the required staff:child ratios.

The EYFS states that: ‘All staff who obtained a level 2 and/or level 3 qualification since 30 June 2016 must obtain a PFA qualification within three months of starting work in order to be included in the required staff:child ratios at level 2 or level 3 in an early years setting. To continue to be included in the ratio requirement the certificate must be renewed every 3 years.’

Will my Ofsted inspection focus change?

No – Ofsted will continue to inspect as before, now just against the new January 2024 EYFS frameworks. They will not be specifically looking to assess the implementation of each new change in settings unless there was cause for concern in these areas. You must ensure that you are following the correct version of the EYFS framework according to your setting type.

Will the change to EAL requirements weaken provision in this area and consequently negatively impact the most disadvantaged children?

We have heard that this requirement could be a difficult ask for some early years providers, especially if there are several home languages represented by children in their setting. We consulted on whether to change the requirement for settings to support development of home languages in settings for children learning English as an additional language (EAL). This was based on feedback from some practitioners about the level of challenge involved in meeting this requirement. The consultation asked whether the requirement should be set out as a “must”, “should”, or “may” in both new versions of the EYFS. 84% of respondents supported changing the requirement from the existing wording ‘must’. Changing the wording to “may” was the preferred option for consultation respondents (45%).

The aim of changing this requirement is to increase the flexibility on providers to support home language in settings as well as the acquisition of English for those children where English is not their first language. There is evidence that the longer a child with EAL spends in an English-based setting, the stronger their fluency and competency with the English language becomes.

Data from the published provider survey also suggests that, in a majority of instances, providers will still facilitate the use of children’s home language within settings.

Is enough being done to support children with SEND?

The Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework stipulates that providers must have arrangements in place to support children with SEN or disabilities. Maintained schools, maintained nursery schools and all providers who are funded by the local authority to deliver early education places must have regard to the SEND Code of Practice.

We recognise the importance of having qualified, trained, and experienced people working with children in early years with SEND. The DfE has designed a package of workforce development for all early years practitioners. This includes level 2 and early years educator level 3 qualifications including SEND content, and our EU Recovery Programme that includes training for up to 7,000 early years Special Educational Need Coordinators.

Our published SEND and AP improvement plan sets out how we will make sure all children with special needs and disabilities receive the support they need, with new national standards for identifying and meeting SEND for children of all ages, including early years. There will also be new local SEND and AP Partnerships, strengthened accountability and dashboards, and funding reforms.

Additionally, the Department is funding the Early Language and Support for Every Child (ELSEC) pathfinder which will trial new ways of working to better identify and support children with SLCN in Early Years and primary schools.

What will be the impact of allowing students and apprentices to count in ratios at the level below their level of study?

This proposal will allow students on placement and apprentices to count in ratios, but only at the level below their level of study and only if their manager deems them sufficiently competent and responsible. For example, a Level 3 apprentice who is judged by their manager to be performing well could count within the Level 2 ratios; equally, a Level 6 trainee could be brought into the Level 3 ratios. We recognise that managers themselves are best placed to make these judgements in a way that safeguards quality in their setting and that they are accountable to Ofsted for the quality of their provision. This change aims to empower managers to identify trainee early years practitioners, who already display high levels of competence in curriculum delivery, to aid with relieving staffing pressures by being counted in ratios. In turn, this experience will allow trainees to benefit from more responsibility, gain experience and develop their skills. This change aims to be one which will aid all areas of early years provision and should in turn aid quality in the sector.

Why don’t childminders need to undertake training to deliver the EYFS anymore? 

We want prospective childminders to gain the required understanding of the EYFS in the way that best suits their needs. We know that some applicants have existing knowledge, such as from previous careers in nurseries or as a childminder’s assistant, or they may prefer independent learning. The requirement for applicants to demonstrate that they understand and can implement the EYFS will continue to be tested in the same way at the pre-registration visit – the Department is simply providing more flexibility around how they can acquire this knowledge. Childminders will continue to be required to undertake training in child protection and paediatric first aid and will still be able to undertake EYFS training if they need or want to. 

What is the relationship between the EYFS and the introduction of new Early Years Qualification Requirements and Standards document?

The EYFS statutory framework sets out the requirements for staff:child ratios in settings delivering the EYFS and the qualification levels practitioners must hold to be included within those requirements. The new statutory qualifications document defines the minimum qualifications that practitioners must hold to be recognised as level 2, level 3, or level 6 members of staff for the purpose of working within the EYFS staff:child ratios. The two documents should be read alongside each other, as they both form part of the overall EYFS. Whilst the Early Years Qualification Requirements and Standards document sets out general qualification requirements, the EYFS includes more detail about when staff can be used in ratios, as set out in paragraph 1.1 of the Early Years Qualification Requirements and Standards document.

Has the 50% requirement for non-qualified staff been removed? Can I still employ unqualified staff and are they needed in ratios?

The introduction of the qualification standards document is a technical change that puts the existing information about qualifications that is currently held on various pages into one easily accessible document. This document does not introduce any new policy or requirements, other than the changes to the level 2 maths requirement and use of students and apprentices in ratios, which the Department is bringing in following the consultation.

The EYFS statutory framework sets out the requirements for staff:child ratios in settings delivering the EYFS and the qualification levels practitioners must hold to be included within those requirements. Relevant paragraphs of the EYFS statutory framework for group and school-based settings include 3.38, 3.40 and 3.41-3.50.

Will the cumulative effect of these changes lead to a reduction in quality in the sector?

The quality of early years provision remains a priority for the Department for Education. England has some of the highest quality provision in the world, with 96% of early years settings rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding as of August 2023 – up from 74% in 2012. An independent evaluation of the 2021 early education reforms found that leaders generally believe quality in the sector had improved because of the changes, with many thinking the reforms lead to better quality interactions with children.

Ministers believe these regulatory changes coming into force in January 2024 are also a positive step for the sector, offering providers increased flexibility and alleviating known burdens. Many of the proposals consulted on in Summer 2023 were things the sector asked us to look at. Our aim is to ensure providers can operate successfully and practitioners can focus on providing children in their care with a high-quality early education, as well as progressing their careers.

Through the Early Years Education Recovery Programme, we are supporting practitioners to offer the best quality care and education to children. This includes peer to peer support offered via our Stronger Practice Hubs and Experts and Mentors programmes to training focused on early language, early mathematics and Personal, Social and Emotional Development through our Professional Development Programme and training to develop expertise in leading high-quality education and care through the National Professional Qualification in Early Years Leadership.

The department intends to monitor the impact of the changes.