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EYFS Development Matters 2021 – Getting to know children is paramount

June 14, 2021, 11:35 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Stephen Kilgour spells out what implementing the new Development Matters means for primary leaders...
EYFS Development Matters 2021 – Getting to know children is paramount

Given the challenges of the year so far, it would be understandable if leaders were not completely up to date with the new non-statutory Development Matters (DM).

This is launching in September 2021 and can be used in conjunction with the updated EYFS Framework which does become statutory from September 2021.

The new Development Matters’ key message is that there is no longer a need to produce and analyse progress data about our children in reception or, indeed, in the rest of early years.

This is a significant change and presents a number of challenges which leaders need to understand. The majority of the ’heavy lifting’ will be led by your EY lead, but this article provides a useful briefing for any member of the senior team.

Background and history

The previous DM was launched 12 years ago and provided lots of useful guidance on children’s expected development.

However, although this was helpful, an unexpected consequence was an increasing reliance on collecting and measuring progress data. This was fuelled by Ofsted’s desire to see more data and a sense that assessment was almost an end in itself.

Worryingly, some newly qualified EY teachers, who were less confident of their own professional judgement, relied too heavily on DM.

This led to gaps in child development knowledge remaining undetected. The new DM has a radically different approach, underpinned by child-centred assessment. It’s based on a belief in the professional judgement of the EY workforce which is a positive and empowering development.

However, it also means it is now essential for staff to have a thorough understanding of typical child development. For EY leads this means that as well as planning for the implementation of the new DM they must also consider the training and support their staff need in order to be effective.

Learning from special schools

As a former deputy head of a school for children with complex learning needs, I experienced a similar change to assessment when the P Scales were deemed no longer fit for purpose. These had been the statutory form of assessment in Special Schools for many years.

At times it felt daunting and was a considerable journey. As a senior team, we focused on a number of areas:

  • Working as a senior team with our teachers to develop new systems covering a range of areas including: knowledge of child development, progress meetings and new forms of tracking.
  • Ensuring everyone understood the changes the senior team wanted to make and the rationale for the changes.
  • Understanding where each member of staff needed support and providing professional development.
  • I think the changes being asked of staff with the new DM are just as far reaching and at their heart is a move away from a data-centric approach.

Assessment and understanding each child

The choice of what to record and how much is now in the hands of the reception teacher, possibly guided by the EY lead, dependant on school size.

This has the potential to free teachers up. Certainly, feedback from the 3,000 primary schools who chose to be early adopters and implement the new EYFS during 2020-21 suggests that it has made things simpler and less time intensive.

As a school leader you need to work closely with those in early years to agree a clear plan about the information that is needed. As much as possible, try and keep this to a minimum.

It’s worth remembering that Ofsted has made it clear that they will no longer ask to see progress data, and that there isn’t the need to produce unnecessary evidence and assessment data.

In an ideal scenario, the DM’s focus on child-centred assessment will be underpinned by someone in the teaching team being able to tell the story of a child’s learning across the main curriculum areas.

This could cause challenges in a Reception class of up to 30 children if there are limited numbers of support staff. A good first step is to identify any child who is going to need additional support. For monitoring, focus on ‘areas of concern’ for individual children - this is a realistic approach where staffing is tight.

If a member of staff has a good understanding of a child’s learning level and their progress, and an understanding of child development, they should know what needs to happen next.

Sharing the new DM will help everyone to understand more about the changes that are needed.

Talking about these changes and encouraging staff to reflect on what it means for them is a good way to start to build up a picture of where there may be gaps in knowledge.

It is very important that staff are aware that these new systems should not mean a change in approach – the concept of a play-based, child-centred approach is still very much on the agenda – it’s the assessment systems that are changing.

Developing and supporting professional judgement

Professional development will certainly be an important part of preparing for September 2021 and I’d recommend ensuring your EY lead or key teaching staff are the first priority in terms of professional support.

They are extremely important for the successful implementation of the new DM and will also be key to helping other support staff or NQTs. A lot of professional development can be undertaken in-house.

We need to get everyone talking about child development more. EY leads need to think about how to enable this, some things to consider might be:

  • Setting up progress chats.
  • Discussion starters such as videos to explore development in staff meetings.
  • Buying and sharing some classic ‘child development’ books.
  • Dedicating an INSET day to the introduction of the new DM for staff.

There is also the Early Adopters Facebook Group which was set up by teacher Vic Clewes. Many of the members are from the 3,000 primary schools who chose to be early adopters of the new EYFS during 2020-21.

There are more than 8,000 participants and it’s very popular with members posting questions and answering others, and sharing resources.

You can hear more about the team behind the Group in this Foundation Stage Forum/Tapestry podcast.

Supporting the development of professional judgement will continue to be important once the new DM is implemented in September.

Ensuring there is time for reflection and discussion will help make the changes easier and help those working in early years feel supported and increasingly confident with the approaches.

Overall, my main message is that getting to know each child as well as we possibly can is going to be the most important consideration. We can no longer hide behind ‘data’. We need to be able to tell a child’s learning story.

If we focus on this then the new DM will be a positive and exciting development.


Useful RSE resources


Stephen Kilgour, is a former deputy head of a special school and is now Additional Needs Advisor and Outreach Teacher for Tapestry and the Foundation Stage Forum.