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‘Development Matters’ or ‘Birth to 5 Matters’: Which Non-Statutory Framework Should Practitioners Follow?

All Early Years Providers and their staff have a legal obligation to follow and comply with the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Statutory Framework. In addition to the EYFS there are also non-statutory frameworks in place to ensure early years practitioners are helping children to develop in age-appropriate and meaningful ways. While they are not mandatory, it is strongly advised that they are used as they provide a guide to expected milestones per age group and offer examples of how adults can assist children in achieving these goals.

There are a number of non-statutory frameworks and guidelines available for practitioners to follow, but the prominent ones in the UK are ‘Development Matters’ and ‘Birth to 5 Matters’. These are explained and compared below to help providers decide which framework would work best for them.

Photographer: Chris Ainsworth | Source: Unsplash

Development Matters

The Development Matters framework is created by the Department of Education as a supporting document to the EYFS. It provides guidance on how practitioners can implement the EYFS in a successful way and has been amended in correlation with the EYFS updates. The latest Development Matters framework is currently accessible, however the revised EYFS does not come into effect until September 2021.

The content

The document starts by outlining seven key features of effective practice:

  1. The best for every child
  2. High-quality care
  3. The curriculum: what we want children to learn
  4. Pedagogy: helping children to learn
  5. Assessment: checking what children have learnt
  6. Self-regulation and executive function
  7. Partnership with parents

It then outlines the three Characteristics of Effective Learning, which remain the same: Playing and Exploring, Active Learning and Creating and Thinking Critically. These are broken down to show how adults can support children achieve in each area.

Photographer: Beatriz Pérez Moya | Source: Unsplash

It then delves into the Educational Programmes, better known as the Seven Areas of Learning and Development:

  1. Communication and Language
  2. Personal, Social and Emotional Development
  3. Physical Development
  4. Literacy
  5. Mathematics
  6. Understanding the World
  7. Expressive Arts and Design

The content is displayed in tables divided into two columns, one stating what children “will be learning to do” at different ages and “examples of how to support this”. Practitioners can use this content to identify what development age the child is at and how they can help them advance in each area.

Previously, Development Matters identified the early years age brackets as:

  • Birth to 11 months
  • 8- 20 months
  • 16-26 months
  • 22-36 months
  • 30-50 months
  • 40-60+ months

In the latest document they have been condensed and are now established as:

  • Birth to three years
  • 3 and 4 year olds
  • Children in reception

This means that the majority of children in early years settings will now be working in the same age bracket (Birth to 3), resulting in a broader approach and potentially bringing uncertainty and apprehension to some practitioners.

Photographer: Alexander Krivitskiy | Source: Unsplash

Birth to 5 Matters

Published on 31 March 2021, Birth to 5 Matters states that is it created ‘by the sector, for the sector’, being developed by the Early Years Coalition and published by Early Education. The Early Years Coalition comprises the following 16 early years sector organisations:

Similar to Development Matters, the purpose for this framework is to provide guidance for practitioners to successfully deliver the early years curriculum (EYFS).

The content

After the introduction, the principles of the EYFS are highlighted:

A unique child + positive relationships + enabling environments = learning and development

There is then detailed guidance on: Promoting voice and Inclusion; Play; Care; Quality improvement and leadership; and Transitions. The EYFS principles are then comprehensively explained and added to; for example, 10 pages are dedicated to ‘A Unique Child’, including subsections of Child Development, Self-Regulation, The Characteristics of Effective Learning and Inclusive practice and equalities. The same explicit treatment is given to the remaining principles - Positive Relationships, Enabling Environments and Learning and Development.

Photographer: Bernd Klutsch | Source: Unsplash

Birth to 5 Matters then breaks down the Seven Areas of Learning which are the same as those identified in the EYFS:

  1. Communication and Language
  2. Personal, Social and Emotional Development
  3. Physical Development
  4. Literacy
  5. Mathematics
  6. Understanding the World
  7. Expressive Arts and Design

Prime and specific areas also remain the same.

There is great emphasis on holistic learning, providing information on how the seven areas of learning link together and helping practitioners gain a deeper understanding of how each method assists with child development.

Birth to 5 Matters establishes a higher number of age brackets to follow, defined as:

  • Birth to 6 months
  • 6 to 12 months
  • 12 to 18 months
  • 18 to 24 months
  • 24 to 36 months
  • 36 to 48 months
  • 48 to 60 months
  • 60 to 71 months

These are displayed in a visual table, headed by ‘range 1- range 6’, demonstrating how the age brackets overlap, with the Seven Areas of Learning are laid out in tables with three columns, titled:

  • A Unique Child- “what a child might be doing”
  • Positive Relationships- “what adults might do”
  • Enabling Environments- “what adults might provide”

This, again, links back to the principles of the EYFS. Each column clearly outlines what children are expected to be doing at different ages and what practitioners can do and provide for children to enable their learning.

The document finishes with an extensive glossary of terms used throughout the framework.

Photographer: Susan Q Yin | Source: Unsplash

Similarities and Differences

Both frameworks provide practitioners with substantial amounts of information and guidance, covering the same principles in distinguishable ways. Birth to 5 Matters, at a glance, is considerably more in-depth, demonstrating the expertise of those who were involved in creating it (“by the sector, for the sector”). However, Development Matters was constructed by the same government body that made the EYFS statutory framework (Department for Education), prompting the question; which is the best one to use?

Is the broader approach used in Development Matters everything that practitioners need to know, or is Birth to 5 Matters’ more thorough approach going to be most beneficial?

Both frameworks are the same in length, each coincidentally reaching 128 pages. However, they do contrast in appearance. Development Matters using larger fonts and being more spaced out, with Birth to 5 Matters using smaller text, and more of it. This means that, while they are the same length, there appears to be more to offer in Birth to 5 Matters.

Photographer: Wesley Tingey | Source: Unsplash

Another area to note is the contrast of age bracket criteria. Development Matters have reduced their age brackets to only 3 (previously 6), whereas Birth to 5 Matters uses 8. The reason why the age brackets have been condensed in Development Matters is “to avoid tracking activities that do not support child development”, ensuring children are prepared specifically for Year 1, rather than just being ‘ready for school’. Many practitioners will be used to following the previous age brackets, so using Birth to 5 Matters will feel more familiar, while the new Development Matters may feel like an entirely different structure to get used to.

Visually, both frameworks are expertly formatted using tables and images to illustrate their content. Birth to 5 Matters opts for photographs and easy to follow diagrams to expand on their theory and guidance. These work well to clarify the holistic angle and scale of the document. Development Matters uses digital illustrations and coloured tables to display their content. Both documents are appropriately colour-coded and are aesthetically pleasing. Birth to 5 Matters has a mix of portrait and landscape orientations and Development Matters remains in landscape.

Development Matters has simplified its tables depicting the Seven areas of Learning, whereas Birth to 5 Matters follows a similar structure to the previous Development Matters framework. Again, both contain considerable information and ideas for practitioners, but Birth to 5 Matters appears to be more exhaustive.

Photographer: Andreas Klassen | Source: Unsplash

In Summary

It is down to each individual setting to decide which framework they will use. Some will prefer the familiarity of Birth to 5 Matters, with its narrower age brackets and recognisable format. Others will be in favour of the simplified Development Matters, allowing practitioners to take a more flexible approach, using wider age brackets and a more basic visual layout.

Finding examples of both and showing them to the nursery team is advised, allowing them to explore both options and finding out which one they will find most helpful for following the EYFS. Room based staff are the ones who will be regularly applying the framework to their practice and should be empowered to take part in the decision-making process. Working with what is most comfortable for them will ensure they are helping children develop to their fullest potentials.