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Development Matters – What we’ve learned from the new EYFS framework

How the latest government guidance has impacted our school

  • Development Matters – What we’ve learned from the new EYFS framework

As an early adopter of the new Development Matters (DM), we sat down as an EYFS team in September 2020, ready to tweak some documents and be ready to go about assessment in our usual way.

Fortunately, the new DM guidance had other things in mind, and it has been 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 at the beginning of 40-60 months 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. There were a variety of reasons for this struggle, but the main one was teacher time. 

Making time

What these pupils really needed was more time interacting in a small group and, often, with adult facilitation. They needed more time to take part in Speech and Language interventions, bucket time and one-to-one phonics.

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. Sadly, the reality of this was that not all children caught up and so some started Year 1 off-track. 

The new DM 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.

If they are on track, great, if they aren’t, we can offer support. This looks different for every child, as every child is different, but the teachers now have time to invest in getting to know the child, to fully understand what they are struggling with and put appropriate measures in place. 

This enables key pupils to make the rapid progress they need to meet the good level of development (GLD) criteria, setting them up for more success through the rest of school. 

Secondly, we have more teacher time due to the removal of the exceeding descriptor. Initially, I questioned this. What if these children didn’t do as well? However, in reality, pupils still have access to the same curriculum, teaching and opportunities that enabled previous children to exceed.

The only real change is that the teacher does not need to put in the extra time to evidence it, thereby allowing them to have more detailed conversations with these children, and to think more deeply about how they can ensure challenge throughout the provision and within the curriculum.   

Professional development

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 guidance makes teachers’ breadth and depth of understanding of child development vitally important.

Birth to 3 is a broad window and therefore understanding the milestones within that are key to ensuring that pupils are making progress in the setting. 

The most common concern that other leaders have flagged to me is, ‘how will I know that children are making progress within Reception, if they start on track?’ There are two key things here.

The first is to train your staff to really understand the granular steps to children’s progress, be that in gross motor skills or reading. The second is to trust that they will challenge pupils and move them onto the next step when they are ready, adapting their provision to enable this.

How will you know if staff are doing this? I would say by going into the setting, observing what the children are doing, talking to the children and speaking to the teachers. As with so much in schools, it is only by seeing and experiencing it that we can really gain an understanding of anything. 

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.

It lets us truly engage with the children around us and ensure that their interests are being built upon. It lets us work closely with children who are struggling with a certain area of learning enabling them to master key milestones, and, ultimately, time lets us do the job we all went into the early years to do. 

Tilly Browne is the primary headteacher at Reach Academy Feltham, originally joining in 2015. She was also curriculum lead at Oak National Academy during the pandemic, leading on primary English, humanities, science and understanding the world.

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