Last reviewed 1 May 2020

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 come into immediate effect to support early years providers who remain 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.

Full details of the amendments can be found in the guidance Early Years Foundation Stage: Coronavirus Disapplications, which confirms that the temporary arrangements will last throughout the coronavirus outbreak or until the Government stipulates otherwise. At that point providers should again follow existing EYFS statutory guidance.

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 the coronavirus outbreak 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 of key workers and vulnerable children are kept safe and well cared for. However, as far as possible, children should also benefit from a broad range of educational opportunities.

Assessment

Early years providers will not be required to undertake the progress check at age two during the coronavirus outbreak 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 once the COVID-19 outbreak ends, so if a child is still between the age of two and three once the temporary measures are lifted then the progress check should still be completed before the child turns three.

In addition, Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) assessments will not need to be undertaken for children in Reception classes in the academic year 2019–2020. Schools are still free to complete EYFSP assessments for children if they are able to, and to share with parents and carers and Year 1 teachers at an appropriate time, but they are not required to. If they do choose to assess children, they do not need to share data with their local authority and local authorities will not be required to moderate any assessments that are carried out in 2019/20.

Staff qualifications and ratios

The guidance states that the coronavirus outbreak is considered to be an exceptional circumstance in which the staff to child ratios set out in the EYFS can be changed if necessary. However, childcare providers or schools remain responsible for ensuring the safety and security of children in their care.

Exceptions can also 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.

In nursery classes in maintained schools, caring for children aged three and over, reasonable endeavours should be used to ensure that at least one member of staff is a school teacher. Where this is not possible, there must be at least one member of staff for every 8 children, with at least one member of staff who holds at least a full and relevant level 3 qualification. Providers should use their reasonable endeavours to ensure that at least half of other staff hold at least a full and relevant level 2 qualification.

Once the temporary changes are lifted, the DfE recognise that some providers that remained open may need time to get back to full staffing levels and there will be a transitional period of up to two months following the outbreak where the disapplications around staffing qualifications in ratios will still continue.

First-aid requirements

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.

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.

In addition, the guidance states that if PFA certificate requalification training is prevented for reasons associated directly with COVID-19, or by complying with related government advice, the validity of current certificates can be extended by up to three months. This applies to certificates expiring on or after 16 March 2020.

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.

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.