Learning and development within the EYFS

Learning and development covers the 7 key areas of learning within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which are:

  • personal, social and emotional development
  • communication and language
  • physical development
  • literacy
  • mathematics
  • understanding the world
  • expressive arts and design

Learning and developing through the EYFS

The characteristics of effective learning and the prime and specific areas of learning and development are all interconnected. 


The ways in which the child engages with other people and their environment - playing and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically - underpin learning and development across all areas and support the child to remain an effective and motivated learner.

This document shows how the key themes and principles of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) work together for children.

The 3 characteristics of effective learning

​CharacteristicWhat the characteristic covers
​Playing and exploring - engagement
  • ​finding out and exploring
  • playing with what they know
  • being willing to ‘have a go’
​Active learning - motivation
  • ​being involved and concentrating
  • keeping trying
  • enjoying achieving what they set out to do
​Creating and thinking critically – thinking
  • ​having their own ideas
  • making links
  • choosing ways to do things

Childcare providers should consider the characteristics of effective learning within the Observation, Assessment and Planning Cycle in the EYFS.

The following document provides guidance and questions to support the characteristics of effective learning:

The EYFS (2017) states that on-going assessment is an integral part of the learning and development process. Practitioners should use appropriate tools to identify children's progress, determine their development needs and plan stimulating and challenging experiences. Parents and carers should be kept up to date with their child's progress and development.

The early years inspection handbook for Ofsted registered provision (2019) states that inspectors will consider the progress children make in their learning and development relative to their starting points, and their readiness for the next stage of their education (page 29).

Tools for tracking children's progress

Northamptonshire’s tools for tracking offer sample formats to record summative assessments - a summary of a child's learning and development at a specific point in time.

It supports all staff working with children to consider 'What is it like for a child here?'.

Tools for tracking children's progress include:

These tools are sample documents only and may be adapted by schools, childminders and settings. They help to identify and explain the differing rates of progress that all children are making in their learning and development.

Evidence gathered through on-going formative assessment, judgement on progression, knowing key children well and parental knowledge builds a picture, so that practitioners can make a ‘best fit’ judgement of the development band that the child is working within.


On-going assessment is at the heart of effective early years practice.

  • Step 1 - Look listen and note: Practitioners can observe children as they play, during everyday activities and planned activities, and learn from parents about what the child does at home. This builds a picture of what the child can do.
  • Step 2 - Assessment: Practitioners should use their knowledge of the child to identify where they are in their own developmental pathway.
  • Step 3 - Planning: Practitioners should use this information to plan relevant and motivating experiences to challenge and extend the child’s current learning and development.

Taken from Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage 2012.

The Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage 2017 states that ‘practitioners must consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care, and must use this to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all areas of learning and development’ (pg. 9).

Under the Early years inspection handbook for Ofsted registered provision 2019 inspectors will gather evidence by talking to practitioners about their assessment of what children know and can do and how they are building on it. Inspectors will continue to track children taking in to account the practitioners knowledge of each child (pg. 13).

Practitioners need to take in to account what they do, through the EYFS curriculum and interactions with children to build on the essential skills needed to prepare them for future success. Ofsted refer to this as ‘cultural capital’ (pg. 31).

Within The evaluation schedule under the Quality of education good criteria (pg. 34), practitioners and leaders must use assessment well to check what children know and can do to inform teaching. This includes planning suitably challenging activities and responding to specific needs. It is important for leaders to understand the limitations of assessment and avoid unnecessary burdens for staff or children. Practitioners are required to share information with parents about their child’s progress and promote and support home learning.

Useful documents to support assessment of children’s development:

What is the progress check at age two?

The learning and development requirements of the Early years foundation stage (EYFS) 2017 state that:

"When a child is aged between two and three, practitioners must review their progress, and provide parents and/or carers with a short written summary of their child's development in the prime areas:

  • personal, social and emotional development
  • physical development
  • communication and language

This progress check must identify the child's strengths, and any areas where the child's progress is less than expected". (Section 2.3, 2017)

The progress check was introduced to enable earlier identification of development needs so that any additional support can be put into place as early as possible.

What information should be included in the progress check?

The EYFS framework does not require the progress check to be completed in a prescribed or standard format. It only specifies that information about a child's development should be provided to parents, in the prime areas of learning and development.

Beyond these prime areas, it is for practitioners to decide what the written summary should include, reflecting the development level and needs of the individual child.

The summary must:

  • highlight areas in which a child is progressing well
  • highlight areas in which some additional support might be needed
  • focus particularly on any areas where there is a concern that a child may have a developmental delay (which may indicate a special educational need or disability)
  • describe the activities and strategies the provider intends to adopt to address any issues or concerns.

Practitioners must discuss with parents or carers how the summary of development can be used to support learning at home.

For further information please refer to 'A Know How Guide' which can be found on the key documents section of the Foundation Years website. This non-statutory guidance has been produced by National Children's Bureau and supports you in implementing the statutory progress check at age two.

Two year progress check – Support tools

The Early Education and Childcare service have produced a range of useful tools intended to support practitioners, leaders and managers within early years provision who are undertaking the EYFS progress check at age two.

Read our Feature Focus highlighting best practice for quality assessment procedures and practices:

Our template Progress Check at Age Two is available to download for your use. This is based on the Key principles within 'A Know How Guide'.

The check:

  • should be completed by a practitioner who knows the child well and works directly with them in the setting;
  • arises from the ongoing observational assessments carried out as part of everyday practice in the setting;
  • is based on skills, knowledge, understanding and behaviour that the child demonstrates consistently and independently;
  • takes account of the views and contributions of parents;
  • takes into account the views of other practitioners and, where relevant, other professionals working with the child;
  • enables children to contribute actively to the process.
  • Progress Check at Age Two Northamptonshire Proforma September 2020 (Word 100KB)

For early years leaders and managers our monitoring tool can be used to support you in your role as a way of reviewing assessment processes and approving the quality of reports before they are shared with parents and other professionals.

Key people can make use of our quality assessment checklist to ensure they are consistent in their approach and produce high quality assessments.

Download our handy guide answering some of the most frequently asked questions about the progress check:

​The EYFS requires that all EYFS providers must complete an EYFS profile for each child during the academic year they reach the age of five (for most children this is the reception year in primary school).

This is a summative assessment and describes the child's level of attainment at the end of the EYFS. It identifies their learning needs for the next stage of school to ensure that an effective and appropriate curriculum can be planned for each child entering Year 1.

EYFS profile judgements should be made on the basis of cumulative observational evidence recorded over the course of the year.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) describes a child's level of attainment at the end of the EYFS, and identifies their learning needs for the next stage of school.

Guidance to support the most recent EYFS Profile is available below:

EYFS Profile exemplification materials

The EYFSP exemplification materials set out the national standard for the level of learning and development expected at the end of the EYFS.

The materials are divided into each of the 17 EYFSP early learning goals. They include a variety of different types of evidence of children’s learning, to show the wide range of ways information can be gathered to support EYFSP judgements.

The exemplification materials should help:

  • practitioners to make accurate judgements about each child’s attainment
  • moderators to assess the accuracy of practitioner judgements
  • year 1 teachers to use EYFS Profile outcomes to plan effective provision   
  • all stakeholders who wish to evaluate children’s learning and development

You should use these materials to decide whether a child has met the level of development expected at the end of the EYFS for each ELG, has exceeded that level or not yet reached it (emerging). The exemplification illustrates a child’s learning and development where it best fits the ‘expected’ category.

There is currently no exemplification for the ‘emerging’ or ‘exceeding’ categories.

EYFS profile plan

The profile plan details the processes and procedures for Northamptonshire. Below is a sample moderation visit form and a copy of the appeals process:

New Transition Document 2021 - Moving on to school

Children should be at the heart of all transition arrangements. Providing a quality transition process should not be underestimated for the impact it can have on a child's future learning and development as they move on to school. Transitions should be considered as a continuous and evolving process adapted to meet the needs of the individual child and their families, not a one off event and therefore, the Transition Document should be completed as part of this process.

The Transition Document is a summative record and therefore, should reflect children's skills, interests and uniqueness on leaving the setting, so should be completed towards the latter end of the summer term. Getting the timing right can be tricky, too soon and it is not a reflection of children's true capabilities at the end of the academic year, often when there can be a surge in their progress. The information captured supports receiving staff to prepare for the child's arrival in school and should be passed on before the end of term.

What is Early Years Pupil Premium?

The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is additional funding available from the government to improve outcomes for children.

Children who are currently claiming the Free Entitlement for 3 and 4 year olds in Northamptonshire who meet certain eligibility criteria could be eligible for the EYPP. Children who are 3 and 4 and who meet the eligibility criteria are funded at a rate of 53p an hour which equates to £302.10 per annum.

Early years providers are responsible for:

  • Identifying which of the children in their care may be eligible for the early years pupil premium (EYPP) including children who are currently looked after, or have left care in England or Wales through: an adoption, a special guardianship order or a child arrangement order.
  • Passing that information on to their local authority. For further information/advice email the 'Virtual School' Virtualschool@northamptonshire.gov.uk to access the EYPP additional funding and discuss the individual learning and development needs of that child. If cross county arrangements are in place remember to contact the local authority that is responsible for the child to access the additional funding.

Early Years Pupil Premium – implications for provision and practice

It is important for providers to record clear aims as to how they will use the EYPP to raise the quality of provision and practice to narrow the attainment gap, and demonstrate impact of the EYPP by tracking children’s progress through observation, learning journeys, case studies and tracking. Ofsted will review ‘how effectively leaders use additional funding, including the early years pupil premium, and measure its impact on narrowing gaps in children’s outcomes’ (Early Years Inspection Handbook, August 2015, p. 33).

The NCC EYPP Feature Focus shares information and good practice from settings in Northamptonshire to review how the EYPP has been used to meet the needs of all children including the most vulnerable.

EYPP Audit Tool
The audit tool is to be used by leaders and managers of early years settings to review the use and impact of the EYPP on children’s learning and development outcomes.

The EYPP audit may also be used by the NCC Early Years Team as part of a focused visit to review use and impact of the EYPP across the county.

Further support

Learning Resources for Education (LRE) can support early years settings with the teaching of the EYFS with books, resources, advice and inspiration.