What is Birth to 5 Matters?

Birth to 5 Matters is non-statutory guidance which supports early years practitioners in implementing the Early Years Foundation Stage. It has updated the previous Development Matters document to include recent research, respond to current issues in society and ensure that it is relevant for the needs of children today. It consists of a comprehensive guidance document and additional materials on the website which link to more research and suggestions for further reading. 

How did Birth to 5 Matters come about and what was the process of developing the materials?

It was commissioned by a coalition of 16 early years sector organisations who were unhappy about the EYFS reforms and the revised Development Matters non-statutory guidance document. 

The coalition met as a steering group and commissioned 20 different working groups to contribute and write optional materials to support practice in implementing the statutory EYFS. Each group consisted of experts in their field and representatives from the coalition organisations. In total 100 people were involved who participated and offered their time and expertise free of charge. The work was coordinated by Nancy Stewart who had co-written the previous Development Matters published by Early Education. The aim was for Birth to 5 Matters to be “guidance by the sector, for the sector”, so throughout the process of developing this guidance, there were opportunities for practitioners to be involved in drafting and commenting through a series of public consultations. Any costs related to Birth to 5 Matters were funded by Early Years Coalition member organisations, by the Centre for Research in Early Childhood and the Cosy Fund. 

Why did you want to get involved with this?

I am a member of the LGBTQIA+ Early Years group which is one of the coalition organisations, so when my colleague Aaron Bradbury shared with me the plans to create another non-statutory guidance document as an alternative to Development Matters I was excited and intrigued and jumped at the chance to be involved. I have really valued the Early Education version of Development Matters and used it to inform my practice and teaching and I loved the idea of updating it in the light of new research and themes.  I also saw an opportunity to further promote inclusive practice, diversity and equalities which underpin my own pedagogy and I am a huge advocate for keeping children central to our provision. In fact, the strapline for Linden Early Years is “Keeping children at the heart of early childhood education and care.”  

What was your area of speciality/involvement?

I attended the Birth to 5 Matters Steering Group and was a member of the Inclusive Practice and Equalities Working Group.  Within our working group we wanted to ensure that we captured the voice of the child and incorporated their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – some of these are summarised on page 6 of the document.  We felt that there were some key messages that Birth to 5 Matters needed to include – they were:

  • Equalities and inclusion apply to all children and families. So each child and family bring their own identity, values, and their unique funds of knowledge that are built over time
  • Equity requires more than treating everyone the same – this is about treating people differently dependent on need
  • Talking about race is a first step in countering racism and more proactive anti-racism is needed within the early childhood sector
  • We need to ensure children can see their own identity and their families reflected in the environment, but also, it is equally important for children in settings where there is little diversity to become aware of, and to appreciate difference
  • We must focus on the child at the centre – celebrate their uniqueness and give them a voice
  • It is important that practitioners working with children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities acknowledge and value each child, emphasising what they can do through a strengths-based perspective on disability

Birth to 5 Matters hit the headlines over the Easter weekend. Is there anything controversial about the materials?

After the Sewell report was published, the press were understandably looking at race and by coincidence, Birth to 5 Matters was launched two days after this controversial report. The right-wing press picked up on the inclusion and equalities section and misunderstood the purpose of the materials, thinking them to be a curriculum for children to follow, rather than guidance for adults working within the sector.  

The inclusion and equalities section supports practitioners in understanding how to put their legal duties under the Equalities Act into practice by treating all children and families equitably. Research confirms that children recognise race from a very early age and can develop racial bias between the ages of two and five. The Birth to 5 Matters Guidance document explains that talking about race is the best first step to counter racism, “It is a mistaken assumption that treating all people in the same way and ignoring differences in race is a sufficient response to racism. This approach simply allows the continuation of bias in society which disadvantages people from black and minoritised groups. Instead of a colour-blind approach to race, more proactive anti-racism is needed.” A commitment to valuing and respecting the diversity of individuals, families and communities sits at the heart of this document. Sadly inequalities continue to persist in society, with far-reaching effects. Early years settings have a vital role to play in explicitly addressing all forms of discrimination and prejudice and Birth to 5 Matters supports practitioners in their role to accomplish this.

What is the difference between Development Matters and Bith to 5 Matters?

We are very lucky in that we have two guidance documents that have been developed to support us in implementing the EYFS. Both have the same standing in that neither of them are statutory, so we are free to use whichever we choose – or even dip into both if we find that helpful.  

We now have a revised version of Development Matters, which was developed by a group led by Julian Grenier on behalf of the Department for Education. It guides, but does not replace professional judgement and sets out the pathways of children’s development in broad ages and stages, having 3 age bands: (birth-3, nursery which is 3-4 years; and reception which is 4-5 years).  Development Matters is not a tick list, however it does offer some observation checkpoints to help you notice whether a child is at risk of falling behind in their development. There are 7 key features shared at the start of the document which outline effective practice, however Development Matters is an overview, designed to be read in 90 minutes.

Birth to 5 Matters offers more detail and a focus on effective pedagogy. This is a very thorough document and it would take a lot longer than 90 minutes to read – but it’s also designed for the tables at the end to be dipped into area by area, rather than being read like a book. The materials on the website are very flexible so that you can dip into one area or age range at a time. Birth to 5 Matters contains a lot more guidance than we previously had, however the learning and development tables look very familiar and are under the same headings as before (unique child, positive relationships and enabling environments) which will make it easy to use. It now includes 6 age ranges rather than specific ages and stages of development. Again, based on the idea that children develop and learn at their own rates, and in their own ways, the guidance on possible development trajectories should not be taken as necessary steps, nor assumed to be in a particular order, for individual children. It should not be used as a checklist. 

This version has also retained the aspects from the previous statutory framework – although it contains the new ELG wording – this is because the coalition group and consultation results found that practitioners were unhappy about losing certain aspects like shape, space and measures and technology and felt that the area of self-regulation was not fully explained or understood in the revised ELGs. The statutory framework is clear that the ELGs are not a curriculum – and therefore we are free to choose what to teach and this document covers a diverse range of subjects in what could be developed as a broad, balanced curriculum. 

So in summary – the EYFS is the statutory document which we have to adhere to by law. Both Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters are non-statutory guidance documents and we do not need to adhere to either of them but we can choose to use any guidance we find helpful in our practice. We could use both or neither!  However, I think that many educators will find Birth to 5 Matters a very helpful resource in relation to effective pedagogy.

Which key messages in Birth to 5 Matters mean the most to you?

I think that Birth to 5 Matters is truly inclusive and child-centred which is really important to me. I believe that children need to feel safe, secure, valued, listened to and loved which in turn enables them to become self-assured and confident.  Part of our role as early years educators is to listen to children and advocate for them, empower them and give them more of a voice in society. With a strong focus on the rights of young children, the Birth to 5 Matters materials keeps the child and their voice central to our practice.

About the author:

Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.

Tamsin has written three books – “Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children” , “School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning” and “Calling all Superheroes: Supporting and Developing Superhero Play in the Early Years” and is working on a fourth looking at “Developing a Loving Pedagogy in the Early Years”.

You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email tamsingrimmer@hotmail.co.uk

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