Objectives This was a pilot study to explore whether the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) carried out by UK teachers within the ‘reception’ year, combined with the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), can lead to early identification of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and early access to intervention and can reduce inequity in access to assessment and intervention. Design Pragmatic prospective cohort. Setting Ten primary schools from the SHINE project in Bradford. Participants 587 pupils from 10 schools who transitioned from reception to year 1 in July 2017 and had the EYFSP completed were included in the final study. Interventions The assessment involved a multidisciplinary team of three staff who completed Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised, Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule Version 2, classroom observations with an ASD checklist, a teacher-based ASD questionnaire and a final consensus meeting. Primary outcome measure National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline-compliant clinical diagnosis of ASD. Secondary outcome measures Age of diagnosis, demographic data and feasibility parameters. Results Children with low scores on the EYFSP were more likely to score above the SCQ threshold of 12, indicating potential autism (50% compared with 19% of children with high scores on the EYFSP (p<0.001)). All children scoring above the SCQ threshold received a full autism assessment; children who scored low on the EYFSP were more likely to be diagnosed with autism (and other developmental issues) compared with those who did not. Conclusions We identified nine new children with a diagnosis of ASD, all from ethnic minorities, suggesting that this process may be addressing the inequalities in early diagnosis found in previous studies. All children who scored above the SCQ threshold required support (ie, had a neurodevelopmental disorder), indicating the EYFSP questionnaire captured ‘at-risk’ children.