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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

What you don't know about UK EYFS and USA Common Core.

Many private/international kindergartens in China follow the USA CCSS (Common Core State Standards) curriculum or the UK EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage). One reason for this is both countries have top universities and parents feel by starting their child’s education in one of these curriculums they are preparing them for a smooth transition to higher education in the USA or UK. Another reason is they both seem very comprehensive and have a detailed curriculum with many standards, also known as outcomes, learning goals, statements or objectives. But here is what you don’t know about the USA CCSS and the UK EYFS Standards!

The first thing to know about standards, as teachers use them today, is that they are a rather new thing. 30+ years ago teachers were largely trusted to observe, assess and plan based on their training, experience and expertise. Over the past twenty or so years we have seen drastic changes to the trust in teachers to do what is right, and the amount of paper work (assessment data) they need to complete. This means that many of you reading this went through early years education without the crazy level of standards children have today. I'm sure you feel that you aren't "behind" or have been negatively impacted by that. So what did we do when we were 3-6 years old without all these standards?

We played!

The first UK standards called ‘Desirable Learning Outcomes’ was introduced in 1996 (see timeline video below from 6:00 mins) and the USA CCSS started around 2009 although there were some state specific expectations before this. Each have been edited and revised with the desire to track and know where children are in their development and learning at a younger age.

(For a brief history of how the EYFS came into being watch the video above).

The idea of checklists, tracking, ticking off and teaching to standards has steadily increased as well as the amount or number of standards/expectations for our youngest learners. New teachers that enter the profession are now seeing these standards as a normal part of teaching without really knowing they are a rather 'new' thing or how to properly use them.

There are over 222 standards in the EYFS or as it is called in the EYFS document Development Matters 'statements'. The USA CCSS has over 348 standards. This has led to an obsession in the USA, UK and private/international schools across China towards over planning, pre-planning all activities and obsessing over tracking and ticking off all standards as a measure of success. Schools and teachers spend lots of money on reading programs designed to meet certain standards, resources from places like TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers), Twinkl, and more. All these come with costly lessons plans, worksheets and activities designed to make sure your students meet every single standard.

Too many standards or seeing them as tick-sheet targets is how many of the experts in the video say is "a battle you can't win" and "absurd".

The EYFS's 'Development Matters' (see link below) document was made with the best intentions by early years professionals. It was designed to be a guide to help educators and families understand what development could look like not should look like. In fact on every page it says this at the bottom,

“The development statements and their order should not be taken as necessary steps for individual children,” it read. “They should not be used as checklists.”

(Nancy Stewart who helped write the first Development Matters document says in the video above that the statements are suppose to help teachers think about progression and not be used to tick sheet/checklist)

Schools, leaders, and teachers who are unsure of what to do or how to follow children's interests often try to break these statements down into checklists, plan themes, topics, and lessons to cover every single one because somewhere along the way they became confused and felt success meant every standard was necessary and needed to be covered for learning to happen.

"An over reliance on standards and using them to plan teaching became a safety net for teachers and leaders who don't have the knowledge or experience to work with young children effectively"

Companies that sell software, tracking documents and learning resources exploited these guidelines to sell products "designed" to teach children to master each and every expectation. Schools invested in all sorts of apps, learning programs, reading sets, worksheets etc. to try and achieve all these imaginary requirements they thought they had to teach and document. Programs like SeeSaw, StoryPark, Kaymbu etc. can be great for documenting learning and communicating with families. They can also be used to focus on standards with every picture uploaded designed to meet a standard which leads documenting to be less about real learning and back to a standard tick sheet race, where the teachers are always trying to keep up.

The two charts above are from research conducted in two cities in the USA. The first chart shows how much time was spent in instruction in certain areas. The second chart shows the types of materials were present in the classrooms. They show large amounts of time spent on teacher directed instruction as well as far greater amounts of instructional materials than items for dramatic or construction play.


Although we can say the EYFS standards were created with good intentions by ECE professionals (but are used poorly by some) we cannot say the same for the USA CCSS. There has been heavy criticism of 'Common Core Standards' from early years professionals for several reasons. One major red flag was the lack of ECE experts and educators on the committees that made the CCSS for early years.

“the process for creating the new K-12 standards involved too little research, public dialogue, or input from educators. Nowhere was this more startlingly true than in the case of the early childhood standards—those imposed on kindergarten through grade 3. We reviewed the makeup of the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards. In all, there were 135 people on those panels. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.”

(Marion Brady and John T. Spencer)

The CCSS focus on the wrong things and can be harmful to children because rather than being created by ECE professionals they were backwards designed from high school by people unfamilar with ECE research.

The CCSS website says this on the kindergarten standards,

“Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades.” (CCSS)

We know that these standards are not based in evidence and the CCSS doesn’t provide any to support their expectations for Pre-K and K students (3-6). The standards for literacy development are particularly troubling. There is zero evidence that mastering these (CCSS) standards in kindergarten rather than in first grade has long term benefits and to achieve them usually makes teachers focus on long hours of drill practice and worksheets as well as taking time away from other vital areas of learning art, music, and creative play.

A joint statement was signed by educators, pediatricians, developmental psychologists, and researchers, including many of the most prominent members in those fields in response to the 2010 CCSS which said;

“We have grave concerns about the core standards for young children…. The proposed standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades….” (Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative )

In a report titled “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose.” (which we have mentioned before in one of our first articles on reading instruction) it goes into further detail about literacy instruction DAP.

The report says there is no evidence to support a widespread belief in the United States that children must read in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten to become strong readers and achieve academic success. Below is a summary.

Parents, educators, leaders and schools need to be aware of where our expectations of children come from, when they were made, if they are supported by research and most importantly how they are currently and should be used.



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