Implementing Development Matters: Six things to do now

Written by: Stephen Kilgour | Published:
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The revised Development Matters non-statutory guidance has been produced to support schools in delivering the EYFS reforms from September 2021. Stephen Kilgour identifies six things we can do now to prepare…

Early years leaders will no doubt be aware of the revised Development Matters guidance (DfE, 2020a) which can be used alongside the revised EYFS framework, which is statutory from September 2021 (DfE, 2020b).

Meanwhile, the early years sector has come together to publish on March 31, 2021, Birth to 5 Matters, rival guidance which is a response to the government’s reforms to the EYFS in England.

Development Matters is not statutory but many leaders plan to implement it. Starting to plan now, particularly preparing and working with staff, will help the implementation go more smoothly. Here are six ideas to get your preparations started.

Step 1: Spread the word among your team

There has been a great deal of debate about the new Development Matters, but your team may not be fully aware of the changes that have been made and what they mean for their day-to-day practice. If they have looked at the new Development Matters then they will be aware it is very different to the existing version which dates back to 2012.

As with any change, staff may well be feeling apprehensive and concerned, in particular with regard to removal of age bands and related statements. This change in the new Development Matters is an effort to remove the “tick-list” approach to tracking children’s progress. At the same time, Ofsted has been clear that they will not ask or look for progress data when they visit.

As a leader, it is important to provide clarity on what has changed and discuss with staff what this means for practice. Working with staff to discuss concerns and develop new strategies will help everyone to prepare.

Step 2: Deepen your understanding

Contrary to some opinions, I do not believe that the introduction of the new Development Matters guidance means you are required to change the way that you teach. A child-centred, play-based approach should still be at the heart of your provision. The most significant news is that you have far more flexibility with your assessment procedures. There is a shift in emphasis which places greater trust in the professional judgement of staff. This is a very positive development and may well save time and reduce paperwork.

As a leader this all requires reflection, ask yourself:

  • How secure and confident are my staff in their knowledge of child development?
  • How might these changes affect how we collate evidence of learning?
  • How will I ensure parental communication and engagement remain a high priority?

Step 3: New assessment systems

The shift away from tracking and a greater reliance of professional judgement is a positive step, but can be daunting for staff. It is important to communicate that new methods need not be complicated or stressful – in fact this is an opportunity to create a system that is more suitable for your children.

What is important is that each child’s development is understood well by at least one person in the team. Without progress data, they need to be able to describe the progress that a child has made in their different areas of learning. As a leader you need to ensure that you and the rest of the team all understand who they need to speak to about each child.

The only exception is children who need additional support to progress where, as a senior leader, you should have an in-depth understanding too.

Step 4: Curriculum and pedagogy

The new guidance does not mean you should be moving away from a play-based approach to the curriculum. Neither does it mean large curriculum documents. These are important points to communicate to staff.

As ever, it does need to work within the setting and to meet the needs of the children. Consider how the environment enables high-quality play. Are there other approaches, beyond play-based learning, that might be important for children’s development?

Overall, staff need to feel confident that they understand how a child would typically progress to achieve a particular skill.

Step 5: CPD

Running through all preparations for the new Development Matters is the need to ensure everyone in the team has a good understanding of typical development in young children. The flexibility around assessment means that this is even more important.

There are various guidance documents available which provide a useful starting point. Establishing regular learning discussions where typical development can be discussed with the team is important. This can then be followed up by any focused training that might be needed.

It would be a good idea to invest in copies of a well-respected book on child development. I would recommend the fourth edition of From Birth to Five Years by Mary Sheridan (2014). Give time for your staff to read sections of the book and talk about how it relates to children in your setting.

Find films that show key moments of child development. These might be from your own records, or from subscription services like Siren Films, which has lots of useful clips. Video is an excellent discussion starter. Watching one video a week as a team with everyone reflecting on their own practice would provide valuable support.

Step 6: Implementation

It is easy to focus all our energy and time on the planning and preparation but it’s worth also thinking about how you will support staff during the autumn term as the systems are implemented. It will be new for everyone and there are bound to be challenges. A regular slot for staff to discuss and provide feedback is important. Most important will be getting to know the children, which will allow staff to apply what they have learnt and help expand their expertise.

  • 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. Visit

Further information & resources

  • DfE: Development Matters: Non-statutory curriculum guidance for the early years foundation stage, September 2020a:
  • DfE: Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage, EYFS reforms early adopter version, July 2020:
  • Headteacher Update: Reception Year: The Birth to Five Matters Guidance, Neil Henty, February 2021:
  • Headteacher Update: Reception Year: Best practice and the latest reforms, Best Practice Focus, Neil Henty, January 2021:
  • Grenier 2020: Working with the revised Early Years Foundation Stage: Principles into Practice, Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre:
  • Tapestry & Foundation Stage Forum Podcast: Looking at what’s at the heart of the new Development Matters and busting some data myths, September 2020:
  • Foundation Stage Forum: Recording learning, not tracking progress, Dr Helen Edwards, October 2020:
  • Birth to 5 Matters: New non-statutory guidance being developed by the early years sector in response to the government’s reforms to the EYFS in England, final version is due to be published on March 31, 2021:

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