The impact of words: EYFS regulatory changes

On 27th October 2023, the DfE published the summary of their responses to the consultation on the proposed changes to requirements in the Early Years Foundation Stage. The DfE asked for practitioners views on 25 proposed changes to the EYFS and following the consultation period has stated that it will “proceed with implementing the majority of the proposals in early 2024”.

The changes include:
Changes to qualifications. Level 3 educators will no longer be required to hold a level 2 (GCSE or equivalent) maths qualification. Instead managers would “be responsible for ensuring their staff have the right level of maths knowledge to deliver high-quality early years provision”.

Assessment  clarification. Assessments made about children will be solely based on practitioners expert professional judgement and them drawing on their knowledge of the child. Wording will also reinforce that physical evidence collection is NOT required to prove judgements made.  

But for me there was a big change. Until January 2024 the EYFS will read;

“For children whose home language is not English, providers MUST take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home’.

After January 2024, the updated version will read;

“For children whose home language is not English, providers MAY take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home’.

 Can you spot the difference?

The changing of the word “must” to “may” demonstrates a subtle difference which may change practitioners and providers way of thinking, which could lead to some children becoming overlooked in our Early Years settings.

To thrive in our early years settings, children need to feel a sense of belonging. And to support them in feeling valued we need to reflect their home language and elements of their culture. EAL specialists and consultants continue to highlight the significance of supporting home language and working in partnership with families to support our young learners to flourish. They also highlight the benefits of multilingualism when supported from a firm foundation in the home language.

The EYFS is designed to set the standards early years providers must meet to ensure that children:

  • learn
  • develop well
  • are kept healthy and safe

If we are not reflecting children’s home language, are we ensuring that all children have the same opportunity to learn and develop, whilst feeling valued and “seen” in their environment?

The DfE, state that their rationale behind removing the word MUST and replacing it with MAY is to “alleviate what could be an unreasonable request of some providers if the practitioner(s) do not speak any language other than English, especially if multiple children have different home languages.” They also suggest that it may give settings more time to focus on the acquisition of English, with more exposure leading to a stronger understanding and greater fluency. 

However, I would argue that in terms of workload, celebrating a child’s culture and providing a welcoming and more familiar environment by using some words or phrases in their home language, to help children  feel welcome and valued is not an additional onerous task. It is instead, vital in fostering a sense of belonging in the setting. As you all know, I am a huge advocate of lightening teachers’ workload, however, in my opinion this does not alleviate workload effectively and instead could alienate some of our children, causing them to become “invisible” in the setting. Sharon Bond (Lead EAL advisor to the Early Years Alliance) supports an approach where the child’s home language is used alongside an exposure to English because this enables children and their families to feel welcomed and helps to build the relationship between children, their parents/carers and the setting.

With all this in mind, I urge you as practitioners, to continue to support children in their home language, to ensure that they continue to feel valued and foster their sense of belonging within your school/ nursery community.

I’d love to know, what do you think about the proposed wording changes? Will you continue to support children in their home language where possible? How do you value children’s home languages in your setting?

Emma xx