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NEWS: PACEY's response to EYFS consultation

Over the last decade or so, there has been lots of tinkering and tweaking around the edges of the childcare and early years sector, lots of promises and attempts to improve childcare without looking at the whole dysfunctional system. Going forward we need to stop tinkering and start building a long term, strategic plan. 

We would like to see a long-term vision for children similar to the National Children Strategy in 1998. The childcare and early years sector should be an integral part of that.   

Background   

The EYFS is a world leading framework that sets the standards that early years providers must meet in order to ensure that children learn, develop well, and are kept healthy and safe. It has provided the guidance for many years that have underpinned the high standard in early years education in England.  

Any changes to the framework should therefore be taken incredibly seriously.   

We consulted with PACEY members on the 2023 proposed changes on the basis that the intention behind the amendments are to make it more practical for different types of EYFS providers. Specifically, to offer providers more flexibility, reduce known burdens, enable practitioners to provide high-quality early education and make it easier for practitioners to join the workforce and progress their careers. 

Member responses   

  1. Do you agree with having two separate versions of the EYFS and why?   

The support for the proposal came from those that thought it would be more relevant and easier to use, thus saving time and reducing confusion. The objections were focused on the divide it would create between group settings and childminders and the perception that the latter are inferior. This represents a common theme across all the proposed changes. While on the one hand moves to make guidance clearer and concise is welcome, it must not be at the expense of the hard won professional status of early years professionals and in this case specifically childminders. 

Examples of YES comments    

  • It’ll be clear which statutory guidance relates to me personally. I’d prefer a separate EYFS.   

  • More clear and transparent relevant to the type of setting. 

  • Having two separate EYFS will help the early years sector. But if you qualified years ago and things like an NNEB then I believe you shouldn’t have to retrain.  

  • There will be more flexibility on the new version.   

  • It makes it more relevant and easier to use, I won't need to read sections that are irrelevant to me.  

  • I think childminders work with children in a slightly different way to nurseries and the EYFS should reflect this. However, I do not think that childminders should have a lesser version - we are all professionals and should be treated as equals.  

  • It is much better to know what the EYFS needs from a childminder instead of trying to pick out the reverent information from a joint EYFS.  

  • It means all the relevant information just for childminders is in one place. This will give greater clarity for ratios, welfare, and safety requirements for example.  

‘Childminding settings are run very differently to other early years settings, they are more personal and are in fact a middle ground between a nursery and a child’s home. A childminder works alone so learning is provided in a different way. The EYFS needs to be applied appropriate to the setting, not just one for all. As a childminder I’d like to feel the EYFS is completely relevant to me in the job that I do, the information currently is confusing as some applies to all, some applies to only nurseries and others apply to childminders. Too much is left to interpretation it needs to be much more specific guidance for childminding provision.’  

‘I totally agree. I read through the example of the childminder version, and it was so much better. I wouldn’t need to trawl through a huge document searching for relevant sections, potentially missing stages. The whole thing is relevant and concise to my job.’   

‘I feel childminders are unique in what they do and do deliver care in different ways to large group settings. However, it is important we are still seen as professionals! It will be easier to understand and find things in a hurry if needed. Won't have to highlight the childminders sections.’  

Examples of NO comments.  

  • We have worked tirelessly to prove we are as good as nurseries and not just glorified babysitters.   

  • Childminders already struggle to be seen on equal professional terms as nurseries. We are always fighting the notion that we are babysitters not early years professionals even though the new version clearly states what childminders do I feel parents do not understand this.  

  • I believe we should all be following the same version, some children attend both childminders and Nurseries/preschools, some only attend one type - they should be the same for continuity. There is already too many differences in provisions as it is.  

  • Childminders do not require a different or ‘dummed’ down version. We are equal to (if not in some cases) the staff working in group settings. Any setting working with children of this age should be working to the same documentation and expectations. It feels like a step towards down grading our role.  

  • Childminders are already presumed as a diminished offering of early years education, less by parents but more by fellow EY practitioners. I worry that childminders' professional voice within the industry will be even more side-lined should separate documents be published. Many childminders are highly skilled, offering the most personalised and progressive forms of early years education; our voices matter and we must not be further segregated within the industry.  

  • It will reduce the quality of childminding service and be detrimental to our professional standing and the children's development and learning. It's also an excuse not to pay funding at the same rate. Parents want security of knowing we offer the same.   

‘As a childminder following the EYFS I feel the I can give a tailored early education to my children. Without following the EYFS, we will be sideswiped by Nurseries. Nurseries would be able to say that CMs don’t follow the EYFS however if your child comes to us they will get early education. To parents that don’t know or understand what CMs do, we will be seen as second-rate childcare which is definitely not true.’  

 ‘It is important to me that childminders are held in the same respect as other early years providers. However, having said that, things are different in a home setting as opposed to group provision and some recognition of that is required. But I do make a point to prospective parents that I am inspected under the same framework and offer the same learning opportunities as preschools and nurseries.’  

‘I think childminders are fighting to be seen as professionals as it is. All changes seem to hinder this and make us look like we don’t provide the same education as other types of settings. I do agree to 2 versions of the EYFS in principle, but it needs to be done in a way that still recognises we are delivering the same care but in a unique setting/ environment.’ 

  1. Do you think the new EYFS drafts are easier to understand than the existing EYFS? And why?  

Again, views are split fairly evenly, but with more respondents supporting the new drafts than not. The positive comments reflect the perspective of those respondents that support the proposal to have two versions of the EYFS. However, there were a significant number of comments that reflected confusion and frustration at further change. 

Positive comments   

  • Yes, as it is directed completely towards childminders.  

  • Less complicated a more narrowed down version with clear wording.   

  • Yes, I can read just the part relevant to my job as a childminder.   

  • Yes, they are more fluid and offer more possibilities.  

  • Seems easy to read and it’s specific to each registration.   

  • It is much clearer for childminders.  

  • Yes, I only read the childminder draft, but it was easy to follow and understand. I totally knew all the things that are required for me to do my job.  

  • It uses better terminology.  

Negative comments   

  • Still as muddled as ever  

  • No, the new ones never are! We just get used to them and then they are changed.  

  • No, with the addition of childminding agencies it is slightly more complicated.  

  • Having two standards is confusing. It's easy as it is.  

  • The documents are inevitably still long and information intensive, which they have to be. Little difference is made by separating the documents.  

  • There are a lot of nursery nurses that I have spoken to who are feeling confused.  

  • I am concerned that if we don’t need the EYFS, the government may stop our funding unless we are forced to join Hubs or Agencies.   

  • They are still subject to being taken out of context. Some of it is just because they are desperate to get more staff as early years faces a recruitment crisis which was allowed to happen but now, they want children in from 9 months with no spaces.   

  1. Do you think that removing requirement to complete training will reduce the quality of care we provide children?   

  67% said 'Yes'. 33% said 'No'.

  1. What affect will removing the requirement for all Level 3 staff to have Level 2 maths qualification to count in ratio, with managers still needing to have that qualification have on the quality of maths education for children.   

Those that supported the change were largely of the view that experience was as valuable as formal qualifications in maths, however those against worried that the quality of education was being undermined, a consistent theme. 

Neutral/positive comments   

  • I don’t think it will have an enormous impact.  

  • No effect on the early years sector - basic maths is adequate.   

  • As long as practitioners have functional maths skills to pass on to the children.  

  • We don't teach children under 5 up to level 2 in maths so I can't see it having a detrimental effect.  

  • In my past 27 years as a nursery nurse and now childminder, I have observed many an excellent worker in caring for children being held back because they are unable to pass maths GCSE.  

  • I can’t see that it would affect the care and early years teaching that we provide.   

  • If staff are competent in maths, it will be alright.  

  • I don’t think this will make any difference to care. We do not use GCSE maths in early years. As long as we can manage some simple mathematical concepts and language, we are setting the children for their next step and teaching them not to be afraid of maths. It may mean that additional training for EYFS maths is needed to help these staff gain confidence in it.  

  • None. Pre-school children are not learning GCSE level maths. As long as practitioners are numerate and understand the importance of including maths in their activities that will be sufficient.  

Negative comments

  • It should be a given that there are adults educated to a good standard to educate your child. Otherwise, opportunities may be missed.   

  • Should not be removed, how can staff be expected to teach the children basic maths when their own is not very good.  

  • If you haven't got basic maths, you can't explain things properly or support children using correct terminology.  

  • I think staff need to have a good level of education if they are teaching children.   

  • It is downgrading Early Years practitioners. English language should be a level 3 or 2 requirement for all Early Years practitioners in England.  

  • I feel that maths knowledge is needed to support children's introduction to maths. Knowing the next steps beyond children's knowledge is essential.   

  • Lower qualified staff, lower level of staff understanding of maths so the teaching will be lower- you can already see this in the academic ability differences between staff.  

  • If the adults working with the children do not have a high level of mathematical understanding, then they may not have a full grasp of mathematical development. They may teach children incorrectly or not notice gaps in the children's understanding. These are the key years for underpinning the core and basic concepts of maths in preparation for school learning. If the children are not taught by people qualified to a high standard in these early years, then they may already be behind and have gaps in their learning when they enter school and therefore be at a disadvantage.  

  1. Is it clear from the proposal what the adult-to-child ratios requirements are for each setting? If no, please provide further details.   

66% said 'Yes'. 34% said 'No'.

  1. Do you think the changes will support or hinder your delivery of high-quality early education and care?   

Neutral/positive comments  

Extending the ratio will enable childminders to take on more children but the quality of care will not be as good. As childminders we will have to work harder for our income and the children will suffer, quality of care will slip. To have flexibility is good, for example having 3 children under 5 permanently but being able to have several ad hoc children here and there or to help current parents with extra days will be good for everyone. To say that a childminders own children won’t count in ratio is confusing, they are still small people with needs that will consume your time and attention from the other children.   

  • We will only use the 1:5 2yr ratios in an emergency not as daily practice.  

  • I don't think it will have any affect.     

  • If you know your children and risk assess properly there are times that would be an advantage to help parents when unexpected events happen.  

  • It will support me. I will always deliver high quality care for the children that I look after.   

  • They will not make a difference in the care I provide; I will carry on following the EYFS and using birth to 5 matters and other programmes that help aid me in delivering the best learning outcomes for the children and will do my up most to be the kind supportive adult they need will make no difference.  

  • Being allowed to judge how many children I can care for at once should be for the childcare practitioner to decide based on the ability to provide excellent childcare. Some children flourish more in a slightly larger group so I should be able to decide. Some children behave in a way that is not safe to have in a larger group. So, safety and quality of care should be determined by the childcare practitioner, and this should dictate what numbers they have. But with achieving high standards for each child being what defines the ratio they set.   

  • I hope I will be able to negotiate them with the appropriate support and training. It would be much better to be left with the EYFS that we have all spent the last couple of years adapting to. Our energies could then be focused on supporting and caring for the children in our care.  

  • Neither. I will continue to deliver the highest standard of care I can and always aim for the step beyond the framework anyway.  

  • Not sure yet would need to see how it works in practice. 

  • My ratios will stay the same. However, some practitioners will take on more children. This will not have a positive impact on their learning and dev.  

Negative comments

  • If I hire an assistant, she could be very under qualified. 

  • For many settings the ratio change will mean that staff will be doing more work for owners to make more profit and will not reduce the cost for parents. 

  • Hinder....the LA will further reduce training to us. 

  • It’s clear but it’s not right staff are under pressure as it is without adding more children. 

  • The change in ratio will negatively affect the quality of care- depending on what development level each 2 year old already has to how successful the changes will be, If you gave high needs, children below expected development and use the new ratio you won’t give the children what they need. Lower staff qualifications will lower the quality, however there are some level 3 who already underachieve.  

  • Hinder, especially many professional childcare practitioners who have been working very hard to maintain Early Years standards.  

  • I don’t think it’s safe for one person to look after 5 children aged four and under. Quality of care will be compromised. The change to the EYFS into 2 versions will help a lot.   

‘The government's suggested expanding of funded places is not helpful as there are no possible rates included. Any changes to the EYFS are pointless if the inadequacies of funding now are not addressed. There will be far fewer settings by the time next April comes around.’  

‘I have trust in PACEY to support its members. Many childcare professionals are leaving the profession because it takes dedication to be a childcare professional in today's UK where the costs of living is very high yet many of us are still earning minimum wages especially as a childminders.’ 

  1. Do you think these changes will make work as an early years practitioner more manageable and more productive for each of the below roles?   

As a childminder   

As a group setting manager   

As a group setting practitioner  

35% said 'Yes'. 56% said 'No'. 9% said 'No difference'.

Negative/neutral comments   

  • As a childminder, I don't think that these changes serve to make childminding any more attractive. Offering early education from your home has far more complex challenges and barriers to entry/retention than this consultation covers.  

  • Not much change for childminders from what I can see will be harder for nurseries though.  

  • Makes you feel even more worthless as a childminder. The government already thinks we are glorified grandparents/babysitters.  

  • I don’t think it will change it, it has been made very clear they want less paperwork. Local authorities tend to be the ones that ask for more.  

  • For childminders there is not much change other than a clearer EYFS.   

‘As a group setting /manager/practitioner it all depends on the quality of staff. There is a crisis in the workforce already and it's getting worse. Children with SEN are not getting the support they need or require, and settings are not getting the support they need to ensure they can meet children’s needs.’ 

Positive comment 

‘As a childminder since 1994 I have always had to adapt to changes that have been introduced through the years either from training or through the EYFS these proposals are no different. I welcome the flexibility on ratios, and I feel that nurseries will benefit too as they can recruit staff more easily as there is an easing on staff that they can employ at a certain level. As a childminder it comes down to common sense, I will always deliver high quality care for the children I have and changes and proposals to the EYFS will not alter that. I welcome the proposals and support them. '

  1. Do you think these changes will help to attract new people into the sector for each of the following roles?   

As a childminder   

As a childminding assistant   

As a nursery worker  

26% said 'Yes'. 51% said 'No'. 25% said 'Possibly / Unsure'.

Negative comments   

  • Not sure. We have lost 3 childminders where I live in the last month.  

  • No, only better pay & prospects.  

  • If we want to improve the standing of early years professionals, making it easier to enter with less qualifications just makes it a more undervalued job.  

  • Wages and funding are still too low.   

  • Only higher pay will attract more people.  

  • Pay is a big factor, it is an underpaid industry with big responsibilities.   

  • Unless pay is competitive no changes here will attract new people.   

  • Don’t think it will have any bearing on recruiting staff  

  • From my experience recruitment and retention of staff would be improved by better pay.  

  • Possibly but pay is still a contributing factor. It’s not a rewarding career in terms of career progression and pay. I would make more money as a teacher away from being a childminder.   

  • I think it will be terribly hard for new childminders  

  • Possibly, but will they attract highly trained individuals- probably not - and they are what the early years need.  

Positive/neutral comments   

  • Yes definitely. Nursery worker rather than minder or assistant   

  • Maybe but lower quality of care will result. 

Conclusion 

In addition to the specific responses outlined above, we are in constant conversation with our members about the necessary reforms for our sector and those that are currently being proposed. As can be seen from the answers to the specific questions we asked, there are mixed feelings about the planned changes to the EYFS. Early years educators want and need a level of flexibility, and on that basis many of our members support changes to requirements. For example, we know that childminders in particular welcome the changes to ratios in relation to related children. Likewise, in group settings, enabling leaders and managers to use their professional judgement on the needs of children in their care could help address some of the workforce pressures that providers are currently facing.  

However, our members are concerned that when taken all together the EYFS changes represent a dangerous move towards a weakening of early educators’, and in particular childminders’, highly skilled and professional status. Working in early education and childcare is an extremely skilled profession with a crucial role in children’s most formative years, when their future life chances and potential can be shaped and given the best chance. We are therefore clear that any changes to the EYFS must not undermine the quality of education for children attending early years settings. The needs of children must be at the centre of any policy or regulatory changes. 

The intended extension of the early years offer outlined in the spring budget of 2023 will require a significant expansion of the early years workforce. But that expansion must not come at the price of quality, when the need to support and develop young children, many of whom were born during the Covid 19 pandemic, is more important than ever. 

The decision to go ahead with the relaxing of ratios for two-year-olds, despite enormous opposition, raises a red flag for us. It suggests that the political desire to create more capacity for ‘’free childcare’’ will override the professional assessment of our skilled and knowledgeable workforce. We hope that is not the case and that instead a pragmatic, evidence-based approach will be adopted in which we can work together in partnership to deliver what is best for children, their families and in the long term, the economy.