Last reviewed 28 July 2021

Rachel Dearnley looks at key considerations when preparing for the implementation of the new Early Years Foundation Stage 2021.

September 2021 marks the implementation of the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) making this the fourth revised version since 2008. Preparing for change can be daunting, but providers can be encouraged by the fact that the changes mainly centre on the educational programmes, early learning goals, assessment, moderation and reporting requirement for the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile.

This article focuses on four changes which providers should be mindful of and which may require adaptations to current practice.

Documents to be familiar with?

The Statutory Framework must be adhered to and providers in the Early Years will be inspected against this framework by Ofsted, using the Early Years Inspection Handbook.

The two non-statutory documents listed above are provided for guidance only and Ofsted inspectors will not expect providers to have regard for either.

What’s behind the revisions of the Early Years Foundation Stage 2021?

With the new revisions, the Government aims to:

  • improve outcomes for all children at five years old

  • improve language development for all children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds

  • reduce workload for practitioners.

There are a number of small amendments to section 3 safety and welfare requirements. The Government have provided a summary of these here.

There is just one change to the statutory requirements in that practitioners will now need to monitor the oral health of their children. See section below.

Effect of the pandemic on children’s progress

There is growing concern that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is widening due to the effects of the pandemic on our youngest children (see Early years attainment gap during pandemic). We know that good quality early education has a positive impact on young children’s development, so it is important now more than ever that providers are fully aware of the changes in the EYFS 2021 and look carefully at the quality of their provision in the following areas.

Communication and Language

This is a welcome focus in the EYFS 2021, particularly because the number of children entering their reception year below expected levels of achievement for their age is of greater concern since the pandemic. More children have had less opportunity to socialise with their peers, and have been unable to access early years provision for long periods of time. These concerns must be at the heart of provision if children are to be confident communicators as they enter their reception year. Well trained staff who understand how to provide a rich environment for communication and language is critical to closing any gaps in progress before they enter reception class.

The EYFS educational programme for Communication and Language (Early Years Foundation Stage page 8) states: “Children’s back-and-forth interactions from an early age form the foundations for language and cognitive development. The number and quality of the conversations they have with adults and peers throughout the day in a language-rich environment is crucial.”

Recent research that substantiates this is Beyond the 30 million word gap (Romeo, Lenard, Robinson, West, Mackey, Rowe & Gabrielli, 2018) which builds on the original research The 30-Million-Word Gap (Hart & Risley 1995). The latter concluded that by the age of three years, children in higher income families benefitted from 30 million more words than children in low-income families. Extending this research Romeo et al (2018) looked at the relationships between children’s language environment and their outcomes, but they also investigated the neural mechanisms involved in this.

They concluded that the number of adult words spoken doesn’t matter; what does matter is the number of turns in the conversation. The more children are engaged in conversations the more the brain (Brocas area) was engaged. Educational and income status of the parents made no difference. See the research results here.

Things to consider for practice?

  • Do all staff understand how children develop language and how to support them?

  • Do staff spend enough time dedicated to interacting with children in self-led learning and holding two-way conversations?

  • Are staff interactions with children effective in opening and extending children’s vocabulary?

  • Do staff model, comment, and echo back new vocabulary during their conversations with children?

Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED), self-regulation

Self-regulation is a new term which finds a focus in the Early Years Foundation Stage 2021, under an early leaning goal for PSED. (Early Years Foundation Stage 2021 page 12).

The educational programme for PSED says:

“Strong warm and supportive relationships with adults enable children to learn how to understand their own feelings and those of others.”

“Children should be supported to manage emotions, develop a positive sense of self, set themselves simple goals, have confidence in their own abilities to persist and wait for what they want and direct attention as necessary”.

The Early Leaning Goal now includes the term “self-regulation”. Recent research by Mine Conkbayir (2017) provides useful insights into the meaning of the term self-regulation. She explains how children need help and support to understand what they are feeling before they can reasonably find ways of regulating these feelings. Co-regulation is critical in this biological process, requiring the support of a warm, attuned adult who names feelings for children and allows them time to process them. Like other experts in this field (Shanker 2013, Asquith 2020) Mine makes a clear distinction between self-regulation and behaviour management. The former is not a behaviour management system, but the pre-cursor for children being able to manage their behaviours and it, therefore, rightly has a place in early years practice.

Things to consider for good practice:

  • Is the team trained in understanding how children develop self-regulation?

  • How well do staff provide co-regulation?

  • How does this link with support for a child’s externalised behaviour?

  • Is the setting’s model for behaviour support based on relationships, consistency, safety, and understanding of a child?

Assessment and reducing workload for practitioners

Section 2.1 of the EYFS 2021 states:

  • “Sources of written or photographic evidence are not required, and teachers are not required to record evidence.”

Section 2.2 states:

  • “Assessment should not entail prolonged breaks from interaction with children, nor require excessive paperwork.”

  • “When assessing whether an individual child is at the expected level of development, practitioners should draw on their knowledge of the child and their own expert professional judgement and should not be required to prove this through a collection of physical evidence.”

Things to consider

  • There is no requirement (and never was), to use tracking data to inform practice, and Ofsted inspectors will not base their judgements on this. However, settings should decide whether it is useful or not to for them to continue monitoring progress in this way.

  • Move away from using a statement-based planning and tracking system to inform next steps. Statements in the Development Matters document and Birth to 5 documents are not a curriculum and using them as such, narrows down what practitioners see, do and think about their children. Greg Bottrill (Can I Go and Play Now: Rethinking the Early Years, 2017) says: “You can find out a child’s next steps very quickly by interacting with them and talking, engaging them in a spontaneous assessment”. Make use of non-statutory documents to guide your practice, not next steps.

  • Make your documentation useful, informative and meaningful. Written observations should inform the practitioner and not just tick a box. Use a proportionate amount of professional knowledge to help inform your assessments.

  • Ofsted inspectors are shifting away from looking at paperwork to observing more practice and talking to practitioners about their key children. Question whether staff are confident to do this and how this can be embedded into regular practice meetings?

Monitor the oral health of children

Be aware of children who may be at risk of tooth decay. Settings may consider the possibility of introducing tooth brushing in the daily routine if there are a high number of children who may be at risk of tooth decay, but this is not an expectation.

Other strategies could include working with parents to reduce sugars in children’s general diet, and packed lunches if they are brought in from home. If meals are provided at the nursery, are menus monitored for sugar and salt content?

The Government document Health Matters (June 2017) provides useful guidance.


  • The new Early Years Foundation Stage will be implemented in September 2021.

  • Concerns have highlighted the risk of more children entering reception class below expected levels of development, due to the pandemic. Practitioners need to be confident in their understanding of how children learn and develop language and how they provide age-appropriate support to close any emerging gaps.

  • Self-regulation is a term that needs further understanding specifically around helping children to identify and manage their feelings. This requires the co-regulation of an adult to support the biological processes that enable them to understand how to regulate their feelings.

  • When making assessments of children there is no requirement to provide written documentation, photographs or any other physical evidence. Ofsted inspectors will gather evidence through observations of interactions and conversations with practitioners.

For in-depth information about the changes, see The Early Years Foundation Stage topic.