Early years coalition criticises lack of consultation over revised Development Matters and plans own guidance

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

A coalition of early years organisations has slammed the Department for Education for failing to consult widely with the sector on drawing up curriculum guidance for the revised EYFS, and said it plans to consult and develop alternative guidance for children from birth to five.

A coalition of early years organisations is planning to hold its own consultation and publish guidance for the revised EYFS
A coalition of early years organisations is planning to hold its own consultation and publish guidance for the revised EYFS

The Early Years Sector Coalition (EYSC) has accused the DfE of not consulting widely with early years practitioners in the production of the revised Development Matters curriculum guidance for the EYFS, which was published last week.

The EYSC plans to launch a survey in October to find out more about what the sector wants, to be followed up with public discussion events and opportunities to comment on drafts. It intends to publish its new guidance, Birth to Five Matters, by the end of March 2021.

Meanwhile, Nursery World can reveal that the revised Development Matters guidance contains only a condensed and bullet-pointed outline of an extensive introduction which was developed by Dr Julian Grenier, lead of the East London Research School and head teacher of Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre. The introduction, which elaborates on the importance of early education and contains seven strands of  best practice, including curriculum, pedagogy and self-regulation and executive function, is to be published separately online.

The revised Development Matters curriculum guidance was published last week to support the 2,800 schools that will be taking part as early adopter schools of the new framework from this term.

The revised EYFS becomes statutory for all early years providers in September 2021.

The EYSC of 13 membership organisations said it represents ‘thousands’ of early years practitioners. This includes Early Education, TACTYC, the National Day Nurseries Association, the Early Years Alliance, Montessori St Nicholas, and the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC).

Speaking on behalf on the EYSC, Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, told Nursery World, ‘There are two main problems, the content, and the process – the fact that these drafts weren’t shared. There was a limited and distinctly secretive process on seeking feedback and it wasn’t public.

‘The Government has kept a very tight rein. We would have liked to see it in the public domain, to allow comment on those bits that were good and those bits that were less good.’

There were ‘more people involved’ in reviewing drafts of the original 2012 Development Matters document, she claimed. ‘People were able to comment on it. It was a much more open process [and therefore had] greater credibility.

‘We have fundamental concerns around the pedagogical aspects. The fact is it doesn’t have a clear and consistent pedagogical approach and doesn’t follow the principles of the EYFS framework. Particularly in Reception, it’s too narrow and didactic; it doesn’t recognise children as active learners.’

Commenting on the fact that the published document is very different from the proof that Nursery World had seen, Ms Merrick added, ‘There will have been lots of iterations. The coalition saw a late draft. A few things were addressed but there was little time left to engage in dialogue and make changes.’

Ms Merrick acknowledged that producing guidance will ‘always involve compromise’ but, ‘We feel it was the DfE and ministers having their say, rather than the sector.’

The coalition said in a statement that ‘A fully public and open consultation process in developing the new guidance might have resulted in richer, more forward-looking guidance which the sector could have enthusiastically embraced.’

It added, ‘We share Government’s aspiration to prevent a tick-list approach which takes practitioners away from working directly with children but regret the new document will not achieve that. 

‘In our view, the new document presents a prescriptive, simplistic, limited curriculum and pedagogy, and does not reflect and respect practitioner expertise and excellent practice in the sector.

‘It also fails to recognise all children as active and capable learners and does not provide for the breadth of challenges they will face in a complex and unknown future.  As such, this document does not provide a sound foundation for providers to build a curriculum in the best interests of children.’

Of its own consultation, the coalition said,This is an opportunity to revise existing guidance to develop an evidence-informed document for our times that addresses practitioners’ needs and concerns about doing what is best for children. 

‘Priorities are likely to include children’s well-being and key skills and knowledge for every child growing up in the 21st century such as digital literacy, sustainability and citizenship. The process of developing the guidance will give practitioners opportunities for active involvement in producing guidance and resources that support practice, that reflect their pedagogic principles and that bring together research and practice knowledge.

‘In this context, we invite all stakeholders (practitioners, parents, the public, policy makers and others) to engage with us in producing guidance for the sector, by the sector, through a public process of consultation over the coming months.’ 

More details about the consultation will be available via the members of the coalition, or sign up for further details at www.early-education.org.uk/birth-to-five-matters

The Department for Education has been asked for a comment.

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