Changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) during the coronavirus outbreak

Elizabeth Walker looks at the key changes to the statutory requirements that are designed to give greater flexibility to nurseries at this unprecedented time.

On 24 April 2020 the Government amended legislation to allow the temporary disapplication and modification of several requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework. These changes came into immediate effect to support early years providers who remained open to vulnerable children and children of critical workers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Department for Education (DfE) has updated its guidance Actions for Early Years and Childcare Providers during the Coronavirus Outbreak to include the new temporary changes to the EYFS requirements. The amendments are intended to give the early years sector flexibility to respond to changes in workforce availability and potential fluctuations in demand while ensuring children are kept safe.

Early years settings can use the specific temporary EYFS disapplications if coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions prevent them delivering the EYFS as normal. Full details of the temporary changes can be found in the guidance Early Years Foundation Stage: Coronavirus Disapplications. The current arrangements are in place until 31 August 2021or until the Government stipulates otherwise. There will be a two-week transition period once any lockdown restrictions are lifted and at that point providers should again follow existing EYFS statutory guidance.

For the disapplications to apply, both of the following conditions must be met:

  • there must be government restrictions and requirements in place

  • the provider must have deemed these restrictions to mean they are unable to deliver the EYFS as required.

An early years provider would not be able to use the disapplications simply due to an incidence of coronavirus (Covid-19) in their setting. However, if a number of staff are required to self-isolate (under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984), and if this is significant enough to impact on a provider’s ability to deliver the EYFS, the disapplications can be used.The guidance states that early years providers should fully familiarise themselves with these changes to ensure they understand the flexibilities available to them and are meeting the modified requirements during the coronavirus outbreak.

The following areas of the EYFS statutory requirements are affected by the temporary changes during the pandemic.

Learning and development

During coronavirus restrictions, early years providers should use reasonable endeavours to meet the existing learning and development requirements in the EYFS, instead of this being something they “must do”.

The guidance emphasises that the priority in these exceptional circumstances is that children are kept safe and well cared for. However, as far as possible, children should also benefit from a broad range of educational opportunities.

Early years providers should try and meet EYFS requirements as far as is possible, although there may be occasions where it will not be possible to provide activities and experience across all seven areas of learning for all children all of the time.

Assessment

Early years providers will not be required to undertake the progress check at age two during any period of intervention related to coronavirus (Covid-19) but they should still remain alert to any emerging concerns about any child in their care and endeavour to provide or seek additional support if needed. It is expected that the checks will take place as soon as is practical once the child returns to, or joins, the early years setting, including where a child has turned three if it is considered appropriate and useful in the provider’s professional judgement and in discussion with the child’s parents or carers.In addition, the Secretary of State for Education has decided it will not be mandatory for practitioners to complete the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) assessment in 2021. Instead, schools should use their best endeavours to undertake it, should the situation at the time allow.

Staff qualifications and ratios

The guidance states that ratio requirements remain the same, except for maintained school nursery classes with no school teacher. However, during any period of intervention related to coronavirus (Covid-19), exceptions can be made to the qualifications that staff hold in order to be counted in the ratio requirements. Providers should use reasonable endeavours to ensure that at least half of staff (excluding the manager) hold at least a full and relevant Level 2 qualification to meet the staff:child ratio requirements, but this will not be a legal requirement.

The qualifications of staff depend on the type of setting and the numbers of staff: child ratios in the EYFS. These are set out in the section on staff qualifications and ratios during any period of intervention related to coronavirus (Covid-19).

First-aid requirements

The guidance states that providers are responsible for ensuring all children in their care are kept safe at all times. There remains a requirement for at least one person who has a current full paediatric first aid (PFA) certificate to be on the premises and available at all times when children aged below 24 months are present. The existing requirements also remain unchanged for childminders, as they are already required to have full PFA certification.

Where a provider has only children aged two to five years old in their care they must use “best endeavours” to have one person with PFA onsite. “Best endeavours” means providers must try to identify and take all the steps possible to ensure there is a paediatric first aider on site when a setting is open. “Best endeavours” is a higher level requirement than “reasonable endeavours” and is used here to ensure that meeting the paediatric first-aid requirements takes priority over the other areas of the EYFS framework that have been changed.

If after using best endeavours a provider is still unable to secure a member of staff with full PFA to be on site then they must carry out a written risk assessment and ensure that someone with a current First Aid at Work or emergency PFA certification is on site at all times when children are on the premises.

The requirement for all newly qualified entrants to the early years workforce to have a full PFA or emergency PFA certificate within three months of starting work in order to be included in the required staff:child ratios has been disapplied during the coronavirus outbreak.

Safeguarding and welfare

All other aspects of the safeguarding and welfare section of the EYFS framework still apply, including requirements relating to child protection arrangements. However, early years providers should consider whether they need to review their child protection arrangements, and policy and procedures in light of the coronavirus outbreak, including any period of intervention related to coronavirus (Covid-19).

Early years providers must continue to have a practitioner designated to take lead responsibility for safeguarding. However, it is acceptable for the designated safeguarding lead to not be based on-site if this is not practical, for example they may be working from home or based at another setting, as long as they are still available to provide support, advice and guidance to staff.

Further information can be found in the statutory guidance on keeping children safe in education.

Further information

The following government guidance is available from GOV.UK.