Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between the Statutory Framework for the EYFS and the non-statutory guidance?

It is a legal requirement to adhere to the Statutory Framework for the EYFS.  Non-statutory guidance is documentation which there is no legal requirement to use, even if it has been provided and published by the government.  Development Matters is non-statutory guidance published by government.  Birth to 5 Matters is non-statutory guidance published by the sector.  The status of the two documents is essentially the same.

Are we allowed to use Birth to 5 Matters

It is completely up to you to choose to use any guidance that you find helpful in your practice.  Birth to 5 Matters has been provided by the Early Years Coalition of major sector organisations as optional guidance to support practice in implementing the statutory EYFS.  It has the same status as Development Matters (2020), which has been provided by the government as optional guidance to support implementing the statutory EYFS. Both the Department for Education and Ofsted have made it clear that there is no expectation that you will refer to any particular non-statutory guidance.  You could choose to use either Birth to 5 Matters or Development Matters (2020), or use them both, or use neither.  You are equally free to refer to previous EYFS guidance, or guidance from other countries.

How does Birth to 5 Matters relate to the EYFS?

Every aspect of the learning and development requirements in the statutory EYFS is reflected in Birth to 5 Matters, so practitioners can be confident that if they use Birth to 5 Matters as a guide they will find support to fully implement the EYFS. Birth to 5 Matters will support practitioners in their statutory responsibilities within the EYFS to help children make progress within the seven Areas of Learning and Development in line with the Educational Programmes.   

The Educational Programmes do not identify any aspects (the sub-headings) within the seven Areas. In some cases, the way we have organised aspects does not match the structure of sub-headings listed in the EYFS 2021 Early Learning Goals (ELGs), because we have used a more logical arrangement aligning with child development knowledge.  The ELGS are an assessment for the end of the reception year only, and the EYFS states clearly that they should not be used as a curriculum. How you organise the aspects within your curriculum is not a requirement.

Why are there “ranges” in the grids for Areas of Learning and Development, instead of the overlapping age bands we had before?

The clear message from consultation with the sector was a desire for a typical trajectory for development and learning from birth to the end of the EYFS.  This was seen to be important for supporting child development knowledge for new and less experienced practitioners.  Linking typical ages to this was seen as important to help identify whether children were on track in their development or might need additional support. On the other hand, there was a strong concern among many in the sector that labelling sections of the trajectories by ages – even overlapping age ranges – could be interpreted as meaning that every child should match the age-linked pattern of development and learning.  Instead of considering each Unique Child on their individual development pathway and starting from the child, age indicators may lead practitioners to start from the age band and expect children to follow a pre-determined route.

We wanted to emphasise that development and learning do not proceed in a linear, predictable manner, and that children follow their own uneven and varied path. The word “range” has been chosen to suggest a broad area that a child might be developing within and moving through in their own way. The ages do not appear alongside on every page, to encourage practitioners to consider the section that is relevant to what is observed in a child, not necessarily the section that matches their age.

The ranges can still be linked to typical ages when children might show the development and learning, by referring to the key showing the overlapping age bands in ovals alongside the ranges.  This will help in developing knowledge of typical child development, and in comparing a child’s individual pattern with the norm.

Why shouldn’t the ranges be broken down into smaller steps to show how a child is progressing within a range?

There are three basic reasons to avoid breaking down the ranges into smaller steps, such as “emerging, developing, secure” or similar categories:

  1. Trying to demonstrate progress by generating such data gives a false and limited picture which doesn’t do justice to a unique child’s development and learning – there are much better ways to show progress.

Children’s individual development and learning pathway is unpredictable, as each child winds their own way from infancy to the end of the EYFS. Learning does not follow a straight course, but loops round and shows sudden leaps, fits and starts. So it doesn’t make sense to assume a child will make step-by-step progress through a range. It would not be true to the complexity and surprises built into each child’s journey.

The ranges are designed to be used as a “best-fit” guide to show typical samples of what children might do as they progress. The statements are not necessary steps since children may never exactly show some of these, and will be doing many other things that are not listed. By considering the type of actions described, a best-fit judgement can be made by deciding which broad range is closest to the level of development and learning that has been observed in the child over time and in varied contexts. That judgement is sufficient to match with typical ages for a range, to help identify whether a child is in line with typical development or whether further attention is needed.

The ranges are broad, and a child may well not move from one range to another for many months. To be able to demonstrate progress, it is more useful to rely on ongoing observations. There may be recorded notes or photos, or it may all be held in the mind of the practitioner. Whichever way the information is held, it is much better to be able to describe with real examples what the child was doing a while ago, how the setting supported the learning, and what the child is doing now. For all children, including those with special educational needs or disability, this account of progress will be true to the child and mean so much more than adding a meaningless data point.

2. It may encourage the poor practice of checklists and counting statements that we are all trying to leave behind.

How would a decision be made about which sub-step within a range a child has achieved? The danger is that instead of a broad best-fit approach, the statements will be considered individually and counted up to see whether a target number can be ticked off to move the child on from “emerging” to “developing”, and that all statements will be considered necessary for a ranking of “secure”. The DfE, Ofsted and Birth to 5 Matters have been united in calling for an end to checklists, and any practice which tends in that direction should be avoided.

3. It is a complete waste of valuable time to produce data which nobody, including Ofsted, is interested in.

Who would the data be for? Not for parents, who want real information about their child’s progress and not tracking data which will be meaningless for them.

For the setting, to monitor how well they are supporting children to progress? The fairly arbitrary breakdown into sub-ranges would not add helpful information for strategic purposes. Best-fit ranges are sufficient to indicate where children are making progress more slowly than might be expected so individual children can receive appropriate support, or the setting can plan to improve practice, provision or staff knowledge to support all children in particular areas of the curriculum.

Both the DfE and Ofsted are not interested in tracking data, and certainly do not want to see detailed breakdown within ranges. In a recent release by the government (October 2021), DfE said:

Assessment will always form a meaningful part of teachers’ and practitioners’ daily role; it should be observational and formative and should feed into their interactions with children. It should not be a series of trackers, charts or ticklists that are burdensome to produce and do not directly support children’s development.

And Ofsted said very clearly:

When we are on inspection, we will no longer look at internal progress and attainment data…When inspecting, we want to find out what it is like to be a child at this school. And we will do that through seeing the curriculum in action and talking to leaders, staff, parents and children about what they do every day. We want teachers and other staff to have the confidence to show inspectors what they do – not to rely on unnecessary paperwork that they produce ‘just in case’. This is why we will not look at internal data when on inspection.

Birth to 5 Matters supports using ranges for best-fit summative assessment, which can help identify where extra attention should be paid to individual children or particular groups of children, or where the setting’s provision could be improved. Breaking down the ranges into smaller steps for data purposes is unhelpful and should be avoided.

Instead, build and rely on your professional confidence in knowing your children and being able to describe their progress based on your everyday interactions and observations.

How will we know if children are on track or need additional support?

Just as with the previous Development Matters (2012), the overlapping age key can be used to see whether children are broadly on track with development typical for their age, or whether they are not yet showing development typical for their age.  If there are concerns practitioners can ensure that they are offering appropriate support to meet the child’s needs, work in partnership with parents to identify strategies and experiences aimed at providing support for the child’s development, and seek further advice as appropriate.

How can we show children’s progress?

The most important way to show progress is within the ongoing cycle of observation-assessment-planning, where you will see what children are doing, think about what it tells you about their thinking and learning, and plan how to support or extend the learning.  Through this process you will be aware of the learning progress of each child and will be able to describe many examples of the progress you have seen.  Some of this may be recorded, perhaps in learning stories of significant learning, or in quick notes of new learning you have observed. 

Periodically you may summarise children’s learning in a summative assessment, using a best-fit judgement in each area to identify which range of development is a best overall match for the child’s level of development and learning – without needing to match each statement. The ranges are broad, so you would not necessarily expect to see movement from one range to the next if the summative judgement is done more than about once a year. 

So the summative assessment can give you a general picture of whether a child is on track, and perhaps in which areas most progress has been made over the period since the last summative assessment.  But it is the ongoing formative assessment that will really let you see the progress being made.

How can we produce data on children’s progress that leaders and managers want?

When you do a summative assessment, you can record one of two (or three) judgements in each Area of Learning and Development — using the best-fit band and typical age key, decide whether each child is on track or raises concerns of possible delay  (or is ahead of the typical range for the child’s age).  Within a cohort you will be able to say how many children are on track and how many of concern (and how many ahead).

Leaders and managers can use this information to build a data picture, broken down into each area of learning and for each cohort, to see the percentage of children on track and of concern (and ahead). From this they will be able to consider strengths and weaknesses of the provision.  They will also be able to track whether the picture changes over time as a result of their quality improvement processes, such as professional development for staff, improvements to resources, and so on.  The key difference from some previous practice is that judgements should be based on practitioners’ professional judgement, with recording of supporting evidence kept to a minimum, and that there should not be an excessive level of frequency or detail – no more expecting “three steps per term”, for example.

Will there be a version for parents?

Although parents were asked for their views on Birth to 5 Matters drafts and were positive about the messages, it is clear that it is very complex and is written for practitioners.  The Early Years Coalition is considering what future developments they may undertake, including whether to produce a version for parents. 

Will Birth to 5 Matters be available on the app that we currently use in our setting?

There has been significant interest from a number of app providers who would like to include Birth to 5 Matters on their platforms.  The Early Years Coalition is clear that they would want to ensure that Birth to 5 Matters is used in a way that is pedagogically sound and principled, such as excluding the facility to use it as a ticklist for assessment purposes. Discussions are ongoing about licensing agreements for the use of Birth to 5 Matters on a number of apps.

Will Birth to 5 Matters support us in our work with children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)?

Most of the guidance in Birth to 5 Matters is relevant for all children, and inclusive practice involves the same attention to understanding and responding to children’s needs whether or not they have SEND.  The Birth to 5 Matters trajectories for Areas of Learning and Development may be useful in identifying the range which most closely describes a child’s levels of development and learning.  The trajectories, however, are designed to illustrate examples of typical patterns of learning and development and are not sufficiently detailed to include the smaller steps of progress that would be important for children with SEND.  Additional resources will be most useful for practitioners supporting children with SEND.  The online version of Birth to 5 Matters will contain links to appropriate tools and case studies to illustrate effective processes to support children with SEND.

How can Birth to 5 Matters support practitioner understanding of child development?

Knowledge of child development is an important underpinning of early years practice, and Birth to 5 Matters supports this in a number of ways.  It explains the process of child development – the interactions between biological patterns of development and a child’s experiences, including the quality of interactions with people, places, and things.  It describes a range of factors which influence development. It discusses the role of play as an essential spur for children’s development, the development of self-regulation, and the holistic nature of development.  Knowledge of typical child development patterns is supported by the trajectories outlined within each Area of Learning and Development, along with the clear message that each child is unique and will wind their own way through the developmental ranges.  

Why does Birth to 5 Matters use some different titles for aspects of the Areas of Learning and Development and organise them in different places, compared to the ELGs?

In a number of cases, the organisation within ELGs in the EYFS (2021) does not make sense in terms of child development and learning and following that structure would be very confusing for practitioners who are responding to children’s development from birth onwards. 

For reference, there is a table at the beginning of Birth to 5 Matters to show where support toward all the ELGs is covered, and the linked ELGs appear at the end of each section of the Bto5M grids for Areas of Learning and Development.

Here are the specific changes, and our reasons for them:

ELGs for Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Given that PSED is of such fundamental importance to children’s overall wellbeing and development, it is particularly unfortunate that these ELGs mix together strands that are better understood in other areas of development.  Shaping curriculum guidance around the ELG structure would not support practitioners to understand child development and how they can support it across the age range of the EYFS.  PSED is best understood in terms of its parts, and so Birth to 5 Matters has used these aspects: Personal – Sense of self; Social – Making Relationships; Emotional – Understanding Emotions.

PSED ELG for Self-regulation:  In Birth to 5 Matters, different elements of this are covered within the Characteristics of Effective Learning, in PSED (Understanding emotions), and in CL (Listening and attention).

Our view is that this ELG is badly constructed and does not represent an understanding of what self-regulation is. Self-regulation should not sit within PSED, because it is an overarching aspect of development with emotional, cognitive, physical, and neurological elements.

ELG: Self-RegulationBto5M placementWhy?
Show an understanding of their own feelings and those of others, and begin to regulate their behaviour accordinglyPSED: Understanding emotionsEventually developing emotional self-regulation depends on first being supported to understand feelings from birth, within warm, responsive relationships.  
Set and work towards simple goals, being able to wait for what they want and control their immediate impulses when appropriateCharacteristics of Effective Learning (CoEL)Goal-oriented behaviour is supported through attention to intrinsic motivation and critical thinking including plan-do-review, which are part of Active Learning and Thinking Creatively and Critically (and apply across all Areas of Learning and Development, not just PSED).   Waiting and controlling impulses can be indications of self-regulation, which depend on cognitive and emotional development — a gradual process since infancy of neural pathways growing in response to experiences of encouragement and support to set goals, make choices, and take responsibility. Again, this sits in Characteristics of Effective Learning.
Give focused attention to what the teacher says, responding appropriately even when engaged in activity, and show an ability to follow instructions involving several ideas or actionsCL: Listening and attentionThis is a developmental area, dependent on neurological maturation but also on support given to children to focus and listen.  It is an essential part of supporting children’s early communication and language, since if babies and children don’t share attention with adults, then communication doesn’t happen and the next stages – understanding language, and then using it – will suffer.

PSED ELG for Managing Self:  In Birth to 5 Matters, different elements of this are covered within the Characteristics of Effective Learning, in PSED (Understanding Emotions and Sense of Self), and in PD (Health and Self-care).

Again, this ELG contains a mixture of elements that result from very different strands in children’s development, and practitioners need to see how they result within the continuum of development from birth in these different areas.

ELG: Managing selfBto5M placementWhy?
Be confident to try new activities and show independence, resilience and perseverance in the face of challengePSED: Sense of Self; Characteristics of Effective LearningDeveloping a sense of self from birth onwards is essential for developing confidence and awareness of one’s own capacities. Independent thought and action, resilience, persistence and a positive approach to challenge and setbacks are all part of Characteristics of Effective Learning. 
Explain the reasons for rules, know right from wrong and try to behave accordinglyPSED: Understanding emotions; Making relationshipsChildren will understand the reasons for rules when they have empathy and respect for the feelings of others, and try to follow them when they understand and care about the impact of their actions on others.  These elements grow from understanding emotions, and the quality of relationships they experience.
Manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs, including dressing, going to the toilet and understanding the importance of healthy food choicesPD: Health and self-careDevelopment toward this ELG sits firmly within Physical Development. Through sensory development, babies and children gradually develop an internal awareness of their own body and its needs — including needs for food and toileting. Food choices and nutrition affects physical health, and ability to manage hygiene depends on physical development.  
ELGs for Physical Development

PD ELGs for Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skills:  In Birth to 5 Matters these have been combined as Moving and Handling.  Movement skills do not develop in separate channels but are part of a developmental pattern from birth of coordination and control moving outward from the centre and from top down. The integration of senses, muscle control and coordination, and sense of space are involved in both gross and fine motor development, and they are not separate — e.g. fine motor skill in writing depends on core body stability and balance.

In addition, Birth to 5 Matters places Health and Self-care within Physical Development instead of PSED Managing Self, as explained above.

ELGS for Communication and Language

CL ELG for Listening, Attention and Understanding: In Birth to 5 Matters this has been divided into two strands of Listening and Attention, and Understanding.  This is to support practitioners to understand that listening and attention are fundamentals which must receive primary attention, since children cannot go on to understand language and other ways people communicate, and then to use language and other communications themselves, if they are not first paying attention and listening in exchanges with others.

In addition, Birth to 5 Matters identifies the strand of Understanding within CL, as it is a crucial bridge between Listening and Attention and Speaking, and needs attention from birth onwards.

ELGS for Literacy

L ELG for Comprehension: In Birth to 5 Matters this appears as Understanding, in Communication and Literacy.   There are three ELGs in Literacy, representing an unfortunate increase of emphasis on this Specific Area of Learning and Development at the expense of the Prime area of Communication and Language. Oral language is the necessary underpinning out of which literacy can grow.  In fact, the ELG content is entirely concerned with oral comprehension rather than reading comprehension, and so clearly belongs in the strand of developing children’s understanding within Communication and Language from birth onwards. 

L ELG for Word Reading: In Birth to 5 Matters this is covered in Reading. Reading does involve both comprehension and word reading, but these are better combined in a unified understanding that reading involves using text to gain meaning.  Word reading without understanding misses the point of literacy, and it is important that children are supported to experience reading as a form of communication, not as isolated skills.

ELGs for Mathematics

ELGs for Number and Numerical Patterns:  In Birth to 5 Matters these have been combined into one trajectory for Mathematics.  Knowledge and understanding in mathematics develops holistically, with all elements supporting and influencing others; spatial awareness and pattern, for example, support understanding of numerical patterns.  To support practitioners to understand development of the various strands of mathematical knowledge as they interweave in children’s growing understanding, the strands have been identified within the guidance.  There is attention to space, shape and measure, which have been left out of the ELGs, but appear in the statutory Educational Programme for Mathematics.

ELGs for Understanding the World

UW ELGs for Past and Present, and People, Culture and Communities:  In Birth to 5 Matters these have been combined in People and Communities.  While it seems that the ELGs have been framed to mirror a curriculum for later key stages, as covering history and geography, this is an inappropriate and artificial division for babies and young children.  Early learning in these areas is rooted in close personal experience of family and home, and so illustrating the progression across the EYFS from birth must start from this common root.

UW ELG for Natural World: In Birth to 5 Matters this is named The World.  There is no apparent benefit in renaming this aspect the ‘Natural’ world.  While perhaps intended to link to the later curricular area of science, the broader scope of “The World” includes the natural and man-made world, and the important area of becoming aware of the impact of people on their world.

In addition, Birth to 5 Matters outlines Technology as an aspect although there is no linked ELG, because this is an important area for children’s futures in a technological society.  Although also described as using digital media within other areas of the curriculum, not all children have equal access to technology at home and familiarity should not be taken for granted. Also, not all technology is digital.  Given the importance of “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, we include Technology here to emphasise that children should be comfortable with using and exploring technology and engineering in the form of everyday devices.