EYFS: Development Matters -Take the stage

Helen Moylett
Friday, April 27, 2012

Designed to be used in everyday practice, the revised developmental grids give guidance on planning and 'how' children learn, says Helen Moylett, principal consultant, Early Learning Consultancy

Development Matters is guidance designed to support all practitioners in implementing the revised Early Years Foundation Stage. It is non-statutory, so nobody has to use it, but it was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to be published alongside the revised EYFS statutory framework for the following reasons:

  • Feedback from across the early years sector to the Tickell review of the EYFS made it clear that the grids or maps of the areas of learning and development in Appendix 2 of the original EYFS practice guidance were very helpful for understanding child development and children's progress from birth onwards, as well as informing the EYFS Profile.
  • Although much of the original EYFS has remained the same, there have been some significant changes (for example, the move to Prime and Specific areas and the reduction in early learning goals), which mean that Appendix 2 would be difficult to continue using in its original form.
  • The DfE was also commissioning guidance on the two-year-old progress check recommended by the Tickell review and building on the findings of other Government reviews - the Allen review on early intervention and the Field review on poverty. These important reviews and others, such as Marmot on health inequalities and the Munro review on child protection, all pointed to the importance of the first two to three years of a child's life in laying the foundations of future emotional and physical health and well-being and highlighted the importance of practitioners being able to identify and support children at risk.
  • The Early Years Learning and Development Literature review commissioned to inform the EYFS review, highlighted the need to support practitioners' awareness of recent research in areas such as play, self-regulation, interaction and thinking.
  • Updated guidance on child development could support everyday practice in 'tuning in' to babies and toddlers as well as informing the formative assessment that is the basis of the progress check. It would also support provision for children in those settings that are working with two-year-olds for the first time as funding is rolled out.

Development Matters is an updated version of Appendix 2 of the original EYFS Practice Guidance grids. It includes guidance (not present in the previous version) on the Characteristics of Effective Learning and on the cycle of observation, assessment and planning which should be at the heart of all good early years practice. At the same time, it is about half the size of the previous guidance.


The DfE Early Education co-production group, which has members from key organisations such as the National Childminding Association, the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the Daycare Trust, Early Education and the National Day Nurseries Association as well as trade unions, local authorities and academics, commissioned Early Education to produce Development Matters.

Early Education is a charity that is committed to supporting the professional development of practitioners across the sector so they can provide early childhood education experiences of the highest quality for all children across the United Kingdom.

Nancy Stewart and I are both associate trainers of Early Education and I am the organisation's president. We were both involved in giving expert advice to the Tickell review and we were asked to write Development Matters. Although we did a lot of work on it, we could not have done it alone and are very grateful to hundreds of other people who helped us.

From the start of the process in January this year until it was finished in March, we had support from individuals and organisations from across health and early years. Feedback on drafts came from childminders and early years practitioners including leaders and managers working in pre-schools, private and maintained nurseries, children's centres and primary schools; from educational and developmental psychologists, local authority consultants, health visitors, speech and language therapists, equalities and inclusion campaigners, Early Support, and advisers in the DfE and the Department of Health and also from academics, parents and Ofsted and from organisations such as Montessori and Steiner Waldorf.


The EYFS remains an inclusive framework which helps adults to support each child's development pathway. Development Matters starts by demonstrating how the four themes of the EYFS (A Unique Child, Positive Relationships, Enabling Environments and Learning and Development) and how the principles that inform them work together to support development within the context of the EYFS framework.

Children are born ready, able and eager to learn. Development and learning are not automatic processes, however, they depend on each unique child having opportunities to interact in positive relationships and enabling environments - represented in the diagram on page 2 of Development Matters (see below).

The EYFS supports the right of all children to provision that enables them to develop irrespective of ethnicity, culture or religion, home language, family background, learning difficulties, disabilities or gender. The EYFS statutory framework re-states the importance of observational assessment in supporting early years provision and page 3 of Development Matters explains how practitioners might use Development Matters as part of the 'observe, assess, plan' cycle to support each unique child's learning and development.

Pages 4 and 5 illustrate how the Characteristics of Effective Learning (how children learn) may be supported and extended by adults as well as how they underpin what children learn - the Prime and Specific areas of learning and development.

The Prime areas, which should run through and support all other areas, continue to be fundamental throughout the EYFS. The Specific areas grow out of the Prime areas and include essential skills and knowledge as well as important contexts for learning.

After these introductory pages, the Characteristics of Effective Learning and the Prime and Specific are set out in grids similar to the current EYFS practice guidance. The headings are different to make stronger links with the themes and principles but still cover observing child development in 'A Unique Child - observing how a child is learning' (the previous Development Matters and 'Look, listen and note' columns). The previous 'Effective practice' and 'Planning and resourcing' are now covered in 'Positive Relationships - what adults could do' and 'Enabling Environments - what adults could provide'.

The areas of learning and the aspects of each are covered in this order, and across the top of each page is a reminder that 'Playing and Exploring, Active Learning, and Creating and Thinking Critically support children's learning across all areas'.


This statement is repeated 40 times in Development Matters, running across the bottom of pages 6 to 46: 'Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways. The development statements and their order should not be taken as necessary steps for individual children. They should not be used as checklists. The age/stage bands overlap because these are not fixed age boundaries but suggest a typical range of development.'

Development Matters is designed to be used as part of everyday practice. It is suggested that practitioners:

  • observe children as they act and interact in their play, everyday activities and planned activities, and learn from parents about what the child does at home (observation).
  • consider the examples of development in the columns headed 'A Unique Child: observing how a child is learning' to help identify where the child may be in their own developmental pathway (assessment).
  • consider ways to support the child to strengthen and deepen their current learning and development, reflecting on guidance in columns headed 'Positive Relationships - what adults could do' and 'Enabling Environments - what adults could provide' (planning). These columns contain some examples of what practitioners might do to support learning. Practitioners will develop many other approaches in response to the children with whom they work.
  • where appropriate, use the development statements to identify possible areas in which to challenge and extend the child's current learning and development (planning).


Many practitioners have asked whether Development Matters will be available in an interactive form similar to the CD-Rom and web-based versions of the current EYFS. People have particularly asked if the drop-down menus with the Early Support statements will be available (see More Information).

We have worked closely with Early Support colleagues and incorporated a lot of the Early Support material in the grids. The Early Support developmental journal is being revised in line with the EYFS and eventually we hope these two documents will work well together and, if funding allows, there will be an interactive version.


  • Early Support is a national programme to improve the way that services for young children with disabilities in England work with families. It provides a standard framework and a set of materials that can be used in many circumstances, including in hospitals and by local authorities. See: www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/sen/earlysupport.

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