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Lesson observations for EYFS teachers

Ref: 1895
Last updated on 4 April 2017
School types: All · School phases: Nursery, Primary
In-depth article
What should I look for in an EYFS lesson observation? This article includes advice from one of our associate education experts, Tracey Rees, together with a lesson observation form she has created, based on the EYFS framework. We also include advice on observing provision for 2-year-olds.

Article tools


  1. 1 Downloadable proforma
  2. 2 Advice
  3. 3 Prompts
  4. 4 Characteristics of effective EYFS teaching
  5. 5 Observing provision for 2-year-olds
  6. 6 Further proformas

Article features

  • 7 external links

Key points

The Key
  • Observations should focus on the 3 characteristics of effective learning from the EYFS framework
  • Children should be engaged in a range of activities and opportunities
  • Observers should expect to see teacher-pupil interactions that help to identify learning

Downloadable proforma

One of The Key's associate education experts, Tracey Rees, has created a lesson observation form based on the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

This KeyDoc form can be used when observing practitioners in the EYFS. Later in this article, we explain that it can also be adapted for use when observing provision specifically for 2-year-olds.

Tracey said the EYFS framework places an emphasis on 3 characteristics of effective learning:

  • Playing and exploring: this includes ways in which children engage with their learning through finding out and exploring, playing with what they know and being willing to experiment
  • Active learning: this is what motivates children to be involved and concentrated on their learning
  • Creating and thinking critically: this is where children need opportunities to think, have their own ideas and make links in their learning

She added that the Development Matters in the EYFS document can be used when observing teachers in the EYFS. On pages 6 and 7 of the document, there is a chart that gives ideas of 'what adults could do' and 'what adults could provide' to support the characteristics of effective learning.

This document is now available from the Early Education website.

Another article from the The Key summarises the EYFS framework.

You can view the statutory framework here:


Tracey emphasised that anyone observing teaching in the EYFS should expect to see teacher-pupil interactions that help to identify learning.

An EYFS session involves a lot of activities going on at once, with children choosing and being guided towards activities that help them learn across the different areas of development.

This means that there are no general learning points to consolidate in a plenary session. Observers should therefore not expect to see classic lesson structures suitable for older age groups.

Observers should ... look for children sharing their learning in an ongoing manner with the adults in the room

She explained that observers should instead look for children sharing their learning in an ongoing manner with the adults in the room. Effective EYFS practice includes:

  • Observing children during activities
  • Questioning children during activities
  • Looking at individual outcomes (for example, a painting or piece of mark-making)

These activities tell EYFS practitioners whether children have achieved their success criteria or not. Each child will have their own 'next steps' which should be identified and noted during the session.


Tracey explained that observers should not expect to see learning taking place within specific subject areas. Rather, children should be engaged in a range of activities and opportunities covering all the areas for learning and development.

She suggested some questions that may be useful when observing EYFS practitioners. The questions below are based on the four overarching principles of the EYFS set out on pages 5-6 of the statutory framework.

Unique child

  • Are all children being respected and acknowledged as individuals?

Positive relationships

  • Are children being helped to build on prior learning by provision of activities, such as a play or a story, at a level that is demanding but still within the children's reach?
  • Is the learning that is happening that day/week communicated to parents and carers?

Enabling environments

  • Is the environment appropriate for the age group being taught?
  • Is the environment stimulating and does it reflect the learning that is taking place?
  • Are there resources available to children to self-select the learning through play?

Are all children being respected and acknowledged as individuals?

  • Is there a rich environment of continuous provision that the children can self-select and use to move learning forward? Is there differentiation to use at own level?
  • Has the teacher ascertained what the children already know? Has the teacher built on this?
  • Does the planning reflect the children’s interests in order to keep them interested and motivated?

Learning and development

  • Are all areas, including the outdoor area, being used? For example, does the outdoor environment have activities/resources to stimulate numeracy?
  • Does the practitioner use different learning styles so that the children can interact with the staff and each other? (For example, visual aids, touch, sounds and movements)
  • Are staff modelling key vocabulary to the children? Is it displayed so that adults, children and parents can see it in the room?

Characteristics of effective EYFS teaching

Characteristics of effective teaching in the EYFS are set out in the document Effective Practice: Supporting Learning, produced to accompany the government’s EYFS materials. 

The characteristics, on page 4 of the document, include:

  • Using knowledge of the EYFS to provide rich sensory experiences, stimulating curiosity and investigation
  • Ensuring children feel confident and secure in dealing with challenges in their learning, starting from what they already know
  • Helping children to understand their learning experiences "by providing a commentary on what they do and are achieving"
  • Being clear about the purposes of play and other activities, and planning to support these
  • Valuing children’s spontaneous play and making use of opportunities for learning
  • Providing activities that "engage the children’s interests to motivate them and sustain their learning"
  • Evaluating provision to ensure all children are stimulated in their learning and making good progress

This guidance has now been archived.

Ofsted inspection of teaching in the EYFS

Ofsted's School Inspection Handbook sets out on pages 64-69 how inspectors will evaluate the effectiveness of Early Years provision.

Observing provision for 2-year-olds

The KeyDoc in this article can be adapted for monitoring the teaching of two-year-olds

Tracey Rees explained that the KeyDoc in this article can be adapted for monitoring the teaching provided for 2-year-olds. She suggested modifying the KeyDoc to include the 16-26-month statements from the Development Matters guidance (linked to in section 1 above). These could form the focus of an observation.

She noted that teachers should be differentiating their practice when teaching 2-year-olds, looking specifically at 'what adults could do' in Development Matters.

She also said that teachers should plan activities that enable 2-year-olds to demonstrate the 7 areas of learning and development in the EYFS framework.

She explained that the content of lessons would not need to be radically different from other EYFS provision, but it should be made more accessible for 2-year-olds.

Further proformas

There are blank forms for recording observations of both adult-led and child-initiated "learning, play and interacting" in EYFS settings, as well as completed examples on pages 25-32 of National Strategies guidance for leaders and managers of EYFS settings.

There are also forms for recording discussion points and further feedback.

This guidance has now been archived.

A two-page lesson observation form for the EYFS can be found on ABC Does, a teaching and education consultancy blog. It includes prompt questions and 'quick check' tick boxes, and space for notes and evidence.

Another article from The Key links to templates that can be used to help carry out observations of children's progress through the EYFS.


Tracey Rees is a local authority EYFS specialist. Her expertise includes children’s centres, day care, special educational needs (SEN) and extended services for the primary phase.

A report from the DfE summarises findings from visits to eight schools to look at provision for two-year-olds. The report considers different approaches to setting up two-year-old provision and the delivery of high-quality provision in schools.

This article was updated in response to a question from the headteacher of a medium-size primary school in London.

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