On 31st March, the eagerly awaited Birth to 5 Matters curriculum guidance was launched. Despite being warmly received by many across the early years sector, this is a very unusual time for us all. As settings and practice seek to continue through these unprecedented times, we can all use a little extra guidance. So for those of you who have yet to find this great resource or the time to get to grips with it, please read on as I share with you some of the scope and quality of the materials that have been produced.
You will know the tagline… “Created by the sector, for the sector”. But having been part of the writing team producing the Birth to Five documents, I experienced first-hand the benefit that came from drawing on the wealth of expertise and experience we have in the early years. Heading up the working group on Learning Environments, it was my privilege to work with and coordinate experts, academics, and practitioners. Drawing together a collection of materials that are both underpinned with expertise and packed full of robust evidence, whilst at the same time, being exactly what practitioners in busy settings told us they need.
While we have a statutory framework, the guidance offered within the EYFS is intentionally thin. A skeleton that needs filling out and bringing alive through our practice. We have Early Learning Goals that the government are clear we have a duty to “support children to work towards,” however these are not intended to shape the curriculum, and many practitioners are left confused, requiring some additional level of guidance.
Birth to 5 Matters is then a non-statutory guide to practice, intended to offer up-to-date support that reflects recent research and the current priorities of the industry. Unlike the EYFS, there is no expectation for you to follow it. Instead, as with previous non-statutory guidance, it runs alongside the statutory framework, familiar in layout and focus to avoid confusion or add additional burden.
A core part of the development of Birth to 5 was to ask practitioners what they would want from a new source of guidance. And through consultations and reviews of the early drafts, requests and recommendations were sought and heard. The industry wanted support with observation, assessment and planning that avoided the use of checklists. Help with ongoing assessment of progress, avoiding prescriptive age bandings or expectations. More support and information for SEND, EAL and recognition of the importance of wellbeing. And all of this can be found within the new documents.
But this guidance was not just intended “For the sector” – but also “By the sector”, drawing on the wealth of expertise within the profession. Sharing in the experiences, beliefs and training of the industry, a central bank of CPD, rooted in the shared values and understanding gained, has then been created.
So with all that said – what is it, where is it and how can you use it?
Firstly there is the ‘Practice guidance’ – the core document that you can download for free. In addition to this are a wealth of materials available on the website. Presented using the familiar layout of the EYFS, you will find guidance on the ‘Principles of the EYFS’, along with additional sections offering the support and guidance practitioners told us they would benefit from.
- Characteristics of effective learning
- Inclusive practice and equalities
- Child development
- Attachment and the role of the key person
- Quality improvement and leadership
- The wider context – communities, sustainability
- Holistic development and learning
Each of these sections offers information and materials at a series of different levels, allowing you to access and engage with them at the depth of detail you need. Whether you are supporting a new practitioner, speaking to a parent or, developing setting-wide training.
One of the key areas requesting more support was in understanding child development. This is then a key section within the materials, offering explanations, illustrations, and practical tools. Along with guides you can use them to support parents or inexperienced practitioners.
Another area receiving a great deal of debate and revisions was in the linking of ages to observations of children and what they can and cannot do. And what this might be saying about progression and development. This has been sensitively handled within the materials, with explanations and guidance placing the child – not an expectation – firmly at the core.
More support was also requested for the ‘Characteristics of effective learning’. Highlighted using a familiar layout, you will be able to jump right in, however, additional layers of support are included. And with information and guidance included in a variety of formats, including case studies and films, there is so much for you to explore as a staff team.
Although the EYFS divides development and learning into three ‘Characteristics’ and seven ‘Areas of Learning and Development’, it does this to clarify what is a complex subject. This is one way of looking at things – there are many others. If you are familiar with my work, you will know of the 16 features of lifelong learning that I work with.
However you frame children’s progress, it is important to remember that learning is not compartmentalised within any child’s experience of it. Within the Birth to 5 document, you will find the inter-connected nature of development and learning presented within a wheel, recognising learning as a constant process. Influenced by everything and everyone around the child.
Building on previous guidance, observation, assessment, and planning still resides at the heart of early years practice. Within Birth to 5 we expanded this to include additional factors that must be considered when making professional decisions, such as interactions and wellbeing.
There is then so much to be learnt and utilised within these free materials, so do check out my interactive Birth to 5 course on MyCPD where I will take you through these documents in more detail. With activities and materials to support your ongoing practice and training, we will explore the different layers of support and the many types of resources available to you.
All of my training on MyCPD is certified by the DfE Standards for professional development, and comes with a certificate for your completion. Along with the opportunity to join a dedicated community group, these courses are designed to be used within your CPD and appraisal cycles, as well as in guiding continuous reflection and development of practice at all levels.
However you work with children during these highly formative years, and whichever guidance you reach for, you must be mindful of the lasting impressions of every experience. Along with any learning goal or characteristic they might be gaining from you, children are learning so much about themselves and what it means to be a learner during these formative years. With a huge bearing on their progression to school and throughout their lives. This is a special interest of mine, and the focus of much of my research, and I really look forward to working with you soon.
About the author:
As a passionate advocate for children’s access to rich and meaningful experiences throughout their early years, Kathryn delivers training, seminars and short courses for local councils, private nurseries and schools. Seeking to identify and celebrate the impact of effective experiences on children, as preparation for all of life’s learning, she guides practitioners, teachers and parents in enhancing the experiences they offer through her consultancy, research, writing, teaching and conferencing. A highly acclaimed author and member of parliamentary groups, Kathryn also teaches a Masters at the Centre for Research in Early Years (CREC) and is currently gaining her PhD.
For more information and practical guidance on developing the features of lifelong learning, Kathryn has published a book: “Developing School Readiness, Creating Lifelong Learners”.