Friday, 23 July 2021

Changes to Development Matters

I'm writing a quick, personal note to frontline early years practitioners to explain the changes to Development Matters.

Throughout the year, Early Adopters have given feedback about how the document is working for them. Part of the reason for having an Early Adopter year was to provide some further testing and learning about the new document. 

I've written a summary of the changes [PDF]. 

  • The new guidance has almost exactly the same word-count as the early adopter 2020 version. It’s got more pages because of the redesign.
  • Prime and Specific areas of learning: there is one change to ‘children will be learning to’ in mathematics. Curriculum and other plans which are already in place will need only very minor changes to stay in line with the guidance. The maths change is on page 97: ‘Automatically recall number bonds for numbers 0–5 and some to 10.’ Previously, it stated ‘Automatically recall number bonds for numbers 0–10.’ 
  • Characteristics of Effective Learning: 2 items in ‘children will be learning to’ have been deleted. That’s allowed some of the examples to be expanded, to improve clarity. There are also some changes which reflect expert advice, based on the most recent research. 
  • There are 16 changes to ‘examples of how to support this’ in the Prime and Specific Areas – these changes are mostly to make the exemplification clearer
  • Four items have moved from Physical Development to Personal, Social and Emotional Development – this brings the organisation of the guidance into line with the organisation of the Early Learning Goals. Two items have been merged together, and the examples have been merged together too. The content is the same. 
  • The introduction has mostly been rewritten. It makes the rationale behind the new (2021) Early Years Foundation Stage clearer, and how Development Matters supports implementation of the new Statutory Framework.
  • Self-regulation and executive function: 6 of the bullet points are different, to improve clarity and accuracy. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Preparing for the revised Early Years Foundation Stage: questions and thoughts

  • ‘How am I going to track children’s progress?’
  • ‘How do I check children against age-related expectations?’
  • ‘How am I going to create baseline data for children when they start?’
These are the three most questions that practitioners are asking about the 2021 Early Years Foundation Stage. In this blog I am going to offer some thoughts in response.
Are these the right questions?
I don’t think they are.

It’s understandable that these are people’s first questions. After all, for years we’ve been supplying ‘data’ to local authorities, Ofsted, PVI owners and management boards and senior leaders in schools. 

But we were getting things the wrong way round. It was like putting the cart before the horse. 

What we should focus on in the early years – and every other phase of education, for that matter – is offering children the best possible care and opportunities to learn. That’s all about care, pedagogy and curriculum. That’s why those are the first four ‘key features of effective practice’ in the revised Development Matters

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Guest blog: What we have learnt from the new Development Matters?

Tilly Browne, Primary Headteacher at Reach Academy Feltham, writes:

As an early adopter, we sat down in September ready to tweak some documents and be ready to go about assessment in our usual way. Fortunately, the new Development Matters had other things in mind and it has been a journey and a chance to really excavate why we do what we do and the impact of that. 

Previously, even though we knew that the majority of children were developing well through our curriculum, we still evidenced this progress for every child, over multiple observations and multiple hours: evidencing and deciding if they were the beginning of 40-60 or developing. This meant that we struggled to support the rapid progress of those who started the year off track, as we were too busy trying to evidence the majority who were on it. This struggle was for a variety of reasons but the main one was teacher time. What these pupils really needed, was more time interacting in a small group and, often, with adult facilitation. Each term, we would make a rigorous intervention plan but, before you knew it, observations would get in the way and we would not manage as much as we had hoped. 

Early Learning at Reach Academy

The new Development Matters alleviates this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we have moved to an assessment system which simply states if a child is on track (for example, within the Reception descriptors) or not on track. The key is then if they are on track, great, if they aren’t on track, support. This support looks different for every child, as every child is different, but the teachers feel that they have that time to invest in getting to know the child, to fully understand what they are struggling with and put in the much needed support to help them to develop.   

Secondly, we have more teacher time due to the removal of the exceeding descriptor. Initially, I questioned this. What if these children did not do as well? However, in reality, the children will still have access to the same curriculum, teaching and opportunities that enabled previous children to exceed but the teacher does not need to put in the extra time to evidence this. Thus allowing them to have more detailed conversations with these children, to think in more detail about how they can ensure challenge throughout the provision and within the curriculum.  

Lastly, as an EYFS lead, I can spend less time worrying about our evidence and more time developing our staff. The stripped back nature of the new Development Matters makes teachers' breadth and depth of understanding of child development vitally important. For example, 0-3 is a broad window and therefore understanding the milestones within that are key to ensuring that pupils are making progress in the setting. 

It seems to me that time is the greatest luxury in early years. Time lets us refine and tweak our curriculum to ensure that it is broad, balanced and based in the needs of our community. Time lets us truly engage with the children around us and ensure that their interests are being built upon. 

Time lets us work closely with children who are struggling with a certain area of learning enabling them to master key milestones. Time lets us do the job we all went into the Early Years to do. 

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Getting it wrong in the early years?

A discussion of Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence 


Authors: Chris Pascal, Tony Bertram, Liz Rouse of 

Centre for Research in Early Childhood 

This review is a significant piece of work in its own right, and influential because it was supported by a broad coalition of early years sector organisations in England. Given its importance, it merits a lengthy and detailed consideration. 


Before moving onto that consideration, I’m going to discuss how I see my own position. In 2019, the Department for Education asked me to lead on a review of Development Matters, the non-statutory guidance for practitioners, settings and schools working with children in the Early Years Foundation Stage. The DfE was consulting on changes to the Early Learning Goals and to the Statutory Framework for the EYFS at this time. In response to that consultation, a large number of early years organisations jointly published Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence in September 2019. The report is written by Professors Chris Pascal and Tony Bertram, and Dr Liz Rouse. 


Since September 2019 I have been waiting for a discussion of this document in the detail it merits. After all, the document is backed by numerous sector organisations, representing many thousands of practitioners and academics. It’s important and influential. But there doesn’t seem to be any scrutiny of its findings. I am not sure whether people are afraid to challenge this orthodoxy, or just too busy to read the document carefully and share their thoughts. I know that my own experience of leading the revision of Development Matters has been very bruising. A lot of angry messages and documents have been directed my way. Perhaps it is simply too frightening to have this debate?


But detailed discussion, consideration and debate are the lifeblood of practice development, and buidling knowledge. In that spirit, I am sharing my reflections in this blog. 

Friday, 1 January 2021

Getting ready for the revised Early Years Foundation Stage in September 2021: a brief guide for senior leaders and governors

Back in November 2020, I had the privilege of speaking with my colleague Tania Choudhury at the NAHT Early Years and Primary Conference about the revised Early Years Foundation Stage Framework. 

Our session was all about how the revised EYFS can:

  • help schools to develop an inclusive curriculum so that every child can thrive
  • support high-quality assessment and help schools to move away from tracking progress through levels? 
We're sharing our PowerPoint below. We are also sharing a short guide [PDF] which we wrote for headteachers, senior leaders and governors about the revised EYFS. The guide includes: 

  • suggestions on where to find out more about the new framework
  • a brief guide to what Ofsted are saying about workload, assessment, and outcomes
  • discussion prompts for governors and senior leaders when meeting with EYFS leads and teachers

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Guest Blog by Becka Wigmore: curriculum and progression

Julian Grenier writes:

Last week I offered any Early Adopters the opportunity to write a guest blog about their approach to the early years curriculum. I'm finding it really useful to explore how different leaders and practitioners are thinking about the curriculum and progress. 

I've been doing lots of work with Early Adopters, and with schools and settings looking ahead to the new EYFS in September 2021.  We've been discussing the importance of keeping hold of practice and provision which is working well. We've also been discussing the idea of having a transitional year, so that change is introduced at a sensible pace. 

I've written about some effective approaches to making change in our settings, and supporting staff with their professional development, in my book Working with the Revised Early Years Foundation Stage: Principles into Practice. You can download this as a free PDF or buy a printed copy at

Change brings with it a chance to review practice and reflect. Some schools have decided to map out children's progression in key areas of learning. These maps can support staff in thinking about the best ways to interact with children and support them to make progress in their learning. 

I think it's important to support schools and settings to try things out and make the decisions that work for them, and are consistent with the principles and the requirements of the EYFS. 

There is no 'one size that fits all'. 

It's important that creating these sorts of 'progress models' doesn't become a new and onerous piece of work. Like anything else, it's only worth doing if it improves children's experiences and learning, and supports the professional development of staff. 

Likewise, it's also important that staff don't stop using the old Development Matters as a ticklist only to create new forms and ticklists.

I\m always enormously hearted, inspired and humbled by the work of the Early Adopters and their willingness to try things out and share their findings. That way, they help the whole sector. 

Becka Wigmore, Early Years Phase Leader at Purbrook Infant School, writes:

The idea of the new curriculum seemed like such an exciting opportunity. We jumped on board the Early Adopter train and assumed it would be an easy ride – we were wrong! Changing your perspective and breaking away from what you have always done is more of a challenge than we first realised, and our new mantra is “Baby steps.”


Initially, we expected to have every curriculum progression grid and assessment strategy in place in a matter of weeks. It took us a while to recognise the opportunity for growth and development that we had been offered but, now that we have slowed down, we are taking full advantage. 


Having the flexibility and freedom to create a curriculum based on our own children has provided us with the opportunity to explore how our children learn. Beforehand, we took Development Matters as a checklist for child development and were told that that every 30-50-month-old should be able to draw lines and circles, catch a large ball and copy some letters. If they couldn’t, we simply looked back to 16-24 months… However, if we wanted a child to learn to draw lines and circles, practising walking downstairs or balancing blocks on a tower seemed a strange way to go about it! There was no guidance on how to fill these gaps and move learning on. Now, the curriculum reflects the fact that children develop at different paces, and practitioners have the chance to dive deeper into the ways that children learn and develop individual skills. 


We have decided to hold off on writing our curriculum progression documents and focus on skill progression. We are breaking down each area of learning into specific skills (for example, fine motor has so far been broken into pencil grip, pivots, scissor skills and drawing control). We are then researching and exploring development within these skills, creating a visual map of how children progress and grow. This involves reading deeply into each area of skill, researching how children develop and which skills lead onto others (for example, catching a ball with static straight arms comes before catching a ball with fluid, moving arms). Once we notice a child is unable to catch a ball, we will then know ways to model catching that they can achieve, rather than expecting them to catch a ball one handed with their eyes closed on the first day! 


Naturally, not every child will progress linearly across from Step 1 to Step 8, but every child will have gaps to fill to support their forward progression. These documents will grow over time as more areas of need become apparent, and will be dynamic documents which are used to track next steps and progress.


This feels like an exciting chance to increase our staff’s pedagogical knowledge and our awareness of our children. Identifying a specific target within these skills should move children’s learning on faster as we target their individual needs and ‘in the moment’ progression can happen as staff model a next step that is supported by research. 


Our curriculum progression document will come in time, based on these skills maps. Hopefully, taking the time to increase our own knowledge whilst writing these documents will mean that, once they are completed, they are well-researched and clearly structured, meeting the needs of our specific children. Some areas are easier than others – I am currently putting off maths until I can sit down with our maths leader and find some sort of starting point! However, as I keep telling myself, it’s all about the “baby steps”.