Legal guidance on teaching Early years

Key legal changes in Early Years Settings

When you work with children, you are not only responsible for their education, but also other areas, such as their health and safety. Here we look at the most recent Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework, which came into effect on 1st September 2021, along with the most recent COVID-19 legal guidance that you should be aware of.

Early Years Settings

The early years foundation stage (EYFS) of childcare and education covers the teaching, learning and care of children from newborn to the age of 5. This means EYFS settings include all nurseries, pre-schools, playgroups and childminders. It also includes the reception year at primary schools, encompassing all maintained and non-maintained schools.

Children in Early Years care are at a crucial stage in their development and learning, consequently there are specific legal guidelines and regulations that all EYFS Teachers and Early Years childcare providers must understand and follow, to ensure all children have a good foundation before they begin full time education.

Changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework

Anyone working in an Early Years setting in England will be familiar with the Department for Education’s (DfE) EYFS statutory framework. This sets the standards that all schools and childcare providers must meet and ensures that the same principles are covered in all establishments across the country.

The most recent framework reforms took effect on the 1st September 2021. The key changes made were to improve the levels of language and literacy by age 5 and to reduce the administrative workload for Teachers and care providers, so they can spend more time with the children. Being familiar with the most current changes is important if you work or are looking for work in EYFS.

The framework covers three main principles:

  • Age-appropriate learning and development.

    Learning and development includes communication, physical, personal, social and emotional development, basic literacy and maths, making sense of the world around and developing imagination and creativity.

    Recent changes - The new reforms include an increased focus on developing language and vocabulary across all areas.

  • Preparation for skills and knowledge needed to start school.

    Early Learning Goals (ELGs) are aimed at the reception year of EYFS and should be used by Teachers to support their teaching and as an assessment in the summer term prior to children starting Key Stage 1.

    Recent changes – the ELGs have been made clearer and more focused on the development of children at age 5.

  • Provision of a safe and healthy environment.

    he steps set out in the EYFS framework are for all Early Years providers to safeguard children, ensuring they are in the care of suitable adults, that the premises and environment are safe, that behaviour is managed appropriately, and healthy practices are encouraged.

    Recent changes
    – a new requirement has been added to promote good oral health.

You can read the full EYFS Statutory Framework on the government website. Development Matters, a non-statutory curriculum guidance from the DfE is another useful resource for EYFS providers and supports the recent changes. 

Department for Education approved EYFS qualifications

If you work in EYFS you may be a Nursery Nurse, Nursery Assistant, Teaching Assistant (TA) or a qualified Early Years Teacher (EYT).

To work directly with children in a nursery you need to have at least a Level 2 qualification, though Level 3 is often preferred. This will be in a relevant subject such as Early Years Education and Childcare. More information and a full list of approved qualifications can be found here

As an EYT you will have a degree in a child development related subject, followed by Early Years Teacher training to gain your Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS). You can work in nurseries, preschools, playgroups and the reception year of some primary schools. To teach in a local authority maintained school you also need to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

When you work in Early Years, a specific staff:child ratio must be followed. This is the number of qualified staff required to meet the needs and safety of the children. The ratio is affected by the age of the children and the qualification levels of the staff. The EYFS framework provides guidelines for the minimum ratios, but each childcare establishment must ensure the ratio they use is suitable for their setting.

Full details of the staff:child ratios can be found on page 28 of the EYFS Statutory Framework.

School teachers pay and conditions

The most recent guidance for school Teachers’ pay and conditions came into effect on the 1st September 2021. This guidance applies to permanent teaching staff at all maintained schools in England, so will include early years Teachers.

Due to a pay freeze implemented by the government, pay rates for qualified Teachers have not increased from 2020/21. For Teachers on the main pay range, the minimum pay rate in England, outside of the London area, is £25,714 to a maximum of £36,961.

There have been some changes to the pay rates scale for unqualified Teachers which has seen a slight increase in salary for the lower pay rates. Unqualified Teachers can earn between £18,419 and £28,735. Teachers whose basic earnings are less than £24,000 (this figure is higher in London) will receive an award of £250.  For full details you can read the most recent guidance here.

In other EYFS jobs, the average salary for nursery and childcare workers is between £14,000 and £24,000. As an experienced Nursery Manager you could expect to earn up to £32,000.

Limiting the spread of COVID-19 and keeping children safe

Throughout the pandemic, there has been specific guidance for Early Years settings, to help reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission. This has been subject to regular updates in line with government advice. In late September 2021, the priority for education has become more about ensuring childcare and education continues face-to-face, avoiding any further disruption to children’s education.

Nurseries and schools are responsible for the following:

  • On-going support of learning, development and wellbeing, following the EYFS statutory framework.
  • Control measures to ensure good hygiene, appropriate cleaning regimes, sufficient ventilation and following public health advice on testing and managing confirmed cases.
  • Safeguarding by actively looking for signs of harm that some children may have been exposed to due to COVID-19.
  • Supporting vulnerable children.
  • Having a contingency plan (outbreak management plan) in the event that children or staff test positive for COVID-19, or that there are increased numbers of cases throughout the facility.

Some of the key changes that were made during the height of the pandemic are no longer required. These include social distancing, face masks, small groups and contact tracing. Any of these measures may be brought back in on a case-by-case basis according to contingency plans.

If fully vaccinated or exempt for medical reasons, staff are no longer required to self-isolate if they have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive. This is also the case for children.

The latest government advice on managing COVID-19 in EYFS settings is on their website.

Legal guidance and requirements covering all areas of education are regularly reviewed, so as an EYFS Teacher or childcare provider, it is important to always keep up-to-date with the most recent changes.

If you are looking for your next job in an Early Years setting, you can search our most recent job vacancies here.


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