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New EYFS Development Matters 2021 – Are you ready for the change?

The new Development Matters focuses on the professional opinion of EY staff over progress data says Stephen Kilgour...

  • New EYFS Development Matters 2021 – Are you ready for the change?

The new Development Matters (DM) launches in September 2021, alongside the updated statutory EYFS Framework.

Although non-statutory, many primary teachers plan to use the new DM. One of the clearest messages in the new guidance is that we should no longer be collecting and analysing detailed progress data about each child in Reception. This is a big change which requires some careful planning ahead of September.

This school year has been incredibly challenging for us all, so it’s completely understandable if you are feeling unprepared for these changes, but don’t fret. Here’s what you can do now to start getting ready.

Professional judgement

We’ve all been using the current DM since 2012 and it’s provided considerable structure and direction. It’s fair to say that for some of us, marking off statements and assessing against ‘age-bands’ has felt like a comfort blanket.

Also, if you qualified since 2012, the current DM is the only style of assessment in practice you’ve known. The significant changes to the guidance have caused plenty of debate, as well as anxiety about what new systems will look like.

The new DM is underpinned by child-centred assessment and based on a belief in the professional judgement of the EY workforce. This is a positive development, but after nine years of very structured systems it can feel daunting.

This is because it means all those working within Reception need to have a solid understanding of child development and feel confident to rely on their own judgement.

Although change can cause concern, this is an opportunity to ensure that our planning and assessment practices are genuinely child-centred. I welcome the new guidance which I feel places more trust in Reception teachers and their own professional judgement.

Ofsted has also made it clear that it will no longer be requesting data during inspection visits. This should reduce the number of times SLT needs to request data to prepare for Ofsted and allow everyone to use their time more purposefully.

Learning stories

So what does this mean for September? As always, it is going to be imperative that we get to know our children as well as we can. Without gathering data, a good approach is to think about telling the ‘learning story’ of each child:

  • Where was the child on their learning journey when you first met them?
  • What progress have they made since you became their teacher?
  • What have you done to facilitate this learning?
  • How would you describe this learning if you were speaking to a parent or fellow teacher?

Every child’s learning story is of importance and needs to be considered. We should meet every child where they are on their learning journey and use our skills to further their understanding. Focusing on each child’s learning story will help you to identify the children in your class who may be causing concern in certain areas.

This might be the only thing that you ‘track’, asking questions like, “Who am I concerned about?” and “What am I going to do about it?”.

Curriculum and knowledge

The changes have sparked some fervent debate around what an Early Years curriculum needs to look like. I think there’s a risk that some teachers will spend many hours producing ‘progression documents’ to replace the previous guidance and tick lists.

This is clearly not the right approach and undermines the importance placed on professional judgement.

There has been some suggestion that child-led learning is hindered by the notion of a curriculum in the EYFS. It’s my belief that if we didn’t know what we wanted our children to learn then we’d be pretty redundant as educators.

We make hundreds of decisions a day about what the children in our care need to know next. We do not base this on guess work; we are qualified to do this. Therefore, a much better approach is to look at our pupils and consider:

  • What skills do they need to know?
  • How can families and the community provide resources and support?
  • What is relevant to children’s lives?
  • How can we combine all this with the skills they learn?


However, we can’t ignore the importance of understanding child development and how the new DM relies on this. For example, you may have a curriculum aim that the children in your class will be able to write their full name independently by the end of the school year. In one class there will be a wide range of ability, including:

  • Children who can already do this
  • Children who can write their name, but the letters are mostly back to front
  • Children who are unable to form letters but like to make marks
  • Children who are completely disengaged with the mark making process and unwilling to use a writing tool

Whoever is working with these children needs to know what the most appropriate next step is for each child. If the practitioners in your class are inexperienced or unfamiliar with what progression looks like in this area, then it would be helpful to produce a short piece of guidance that they can follow.

Professional development

Developing professional judgement in yourself, and helping other teachers and support staff, needs to be continual and not something to simply tick off the list. As you prepare for the new DM, try and put in place regular, ongoing discussions with any adult who works with the children in your class.

Conversations should centre around what progress looks like. Share examples of progression as they come up throughout the school day. There are also some great video resources, like Siren Films, which can be used for discussion starters.

The sessions should encourage honest self-reflection. Where do we feel most confident about child development and where do we feel less confident? How can we support each other? If you work in a single form school, or have limited support in class, try to establish a dialogue with other teaching staff around the progress of your children.

Everyone on board

It’s essential that your school’s SLT understands what the changes to the new DM mean. Nothing would be more frustrating than requests from SLT for ‘progress data’ in October half term – a crushing blow to using your own professional judgement.

So make sure everyone is on board this school year and understands the implications of a more child-centred approach, underpinned by professional judgement.

Please don’t think that the changes to assessment need to mean a move away from play in your class. The new DM is very different and it’s important to have faith in your convictions, but it doesn’t mean everything needs to change.

The beginning of the new school year may well be challenging, but the joy of a less data-heavy life will soon start to pay off. Good luck!


Useful resources

  • Read the new Development Matters document.
  • In this PDF, headteacher Julian Grenier gives advice for working with the revised EYFS.
  • Listen to a podcast from Foundation Stage Forum and Tapestry which looks at what is at the heart of the new DM and busts some data myths.
  • Helen Edwards, director of the Foundation Stage Forum, writes about recording learning, not tracking progress, here.
  • Read guidance on meeting EYFS statutory responsibilities here.

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. Follow him on Twitter at @stephen_kilgour.

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