Last reviewed 29 September 2023

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets standards for the learning, development and care of children aged zero to five years. It is mandatory for all early years providers in England, including childminders, nurseries, preschools, after-school and holiday clubs. The EYFS has been updated and the new version came into force on 4 September 2023. In this article Michaela Borland examines the three changes and how they might affect early years providers.

Change in ratios for children aged two years

The government consultation in 2022 on proposed ratio changes reflected that most early years settings, parents and organisations are against the proposal. Despite this, the adult-to-child ratio for children aged two years attending early years providers (other than childminders) has changed from 1:4 to 1:5. This means each member of staff can now be responsible for five two-year-olds at any one time. Paragraph 3.33 of the revised EYFS now states the following.

“For children aged two:

  • there must be at least one member of staff for every five children”.

However, the other criteria for two-year-olds remain the same:

  • “at least one member of staff must hold an approved level 3 qualification

  • at least half of all other staff must hold an approved level 2 qualification.”

Safety

When deciding whether to adopt the new ratios providers need to always consider the safety of children in their care. Most two-year-olds are full of energy and very inquisitive. They are still developing their concentration skills, therefore likely to be spending a lot of time on the move. Managing four children this age, although rewarding, can be challenging at times so will a ratio of 1:5 tip the balance? With the increased ratio there is the potential for staff to be firefighting rather spending quality time helping these young children to learn and progress.

Space requirements

There are also minimum space requirements for all children (EYFS 3.58). Has your setting got enough space to accommodate more children? For children aged two it is 2.5 m2 per child. It is important to note that providers cannot increase the number of children on roll because they additionally use an outside area.

Emergency evacuation procedures

Can one staff member safely look after five young children in an emergency (EYFS 3.56). For example, is your emergency evacuation trolley suitable for carrying extra children?

Outings

Does your outings risk assessment need an update? Do you now need more extra adults when on trips off the premises? The EYFS 3.66 states that risk assessments for outings “must include consideration of adult to child ratios”.

Ratios for childminders

This revision is only applicable to childminders. It is intended to help increase availability of childcare places in response to the increase in upcoming free funding for children of all ages. It will hopefully help to retain and recruit more childminders to the sector to accommodate the inevitable increase in demand. EYFS 3.43 now states that:

“if a childminder can demonstrate to parents and/or carers and Ofsted inspectors or their childminder agency that the individual needs of all the children are being met, exceptions to the usual ratios can be made for example:

  • when childminders are caring for siblings

  • when caring for their own child

  • to maintain continuity of care

  • if children aged three to five only attend the childminding setting before and/or after a normal school day and/or during school holidays, they may be cared for at the same time as three other young children.”

However, some requirements have not changed despite the changes. These include the following.

  • A child is a young child up until 1 September following their fifth birthday. Any care provided for older children must not adversely affect the care of children receiving early years provision.

  • In all circumstances, the total number of children under the age of eight being cared for must not exceed six per adult.

Therefore, if as a childminder you decide to apply the new criteria you must always consider the impact it will have on the safety and wellbeing of other children in your setting. You will have to explain your rationale for applying the exceptions to usual ratios to an inspector during an inspection.

Risk assessments helping childminders to decide whether to use this change need to consider additional factors. These include making sure there is sufficient and hygienic sleeping arrangements for babies and young children. Additionally, is there enough space to provide quality care and education for all the children in your care? Remember, you are within your rights to use the revisions but if they have a detrimental impact on children’s safety, physical or emotional wellbeing, this will have a negative impact on safeguarding and the quality of the provision.

Supervising children at mealtimes

This change applies to all early years providers registered with Ofsted. The revised EYFS has given more clarity to the supervision of children whilst eating. Paragraph 3.29 states the following.

“Staffing arrangements must meet the needs of all children and ensure their safety. Providers must ensure that children are adequately supervised, including whilst eating, and decide how to deploy staff to ensure children’s needs are met. Providers must inform parents and/or carers about staff deployment, and, when relevant and practical, aim to involve them in these decisions. Children must usually be within sight and hearing of staff and always within sight or hearing. Whilst eating, children must be within sight and hearing of a member of staff.”

This means during mealtimes, including snack time, children must be closely supervised and enough staff must be present so children can be seen and heard. Providers need to consider staff rotas at mealtimes. Do extra staff need to be present? Staff lunch breaks need to be covered so enough adults are always in each room where children are eating. The deployment of staff needs to assure the safety of all children across the provision whilst they are eating. This includes making sure that there are enough staff qualified in paediatric first aid present should there be an emergency, such as a child choking on food.

This can be challenging for childminders who work on their own. Risk assessments will need to consider how childminders will manage if one child needs assistance on the toilet while others are eating?