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. 


  1. This is spot-on Tilly, we have some good resources which support a sound developmental approach for all, a framework which allows for teachers/educators to add in a professional and flexible way and supporting documentation which helps us to support the most vulnerable with the time they deserve. Well said. Iram Siraj

  2. Hi Tilly, I was just wondering what tracker/system you use to gather your on track/not on track judgements? Have you made your own? All of the ones I am coming across are breaking down the new age bands which I am trying to avoid. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. I have made a proforma myself, I literally listed the areas across the top then an 'on track' and 'not on track' box under each to write about the child. Then we will take areas for development from this