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Does Development Matters or Birth to 5 Matters address checklist mentality?

Right, I get it, we love a list. I live for the to do list, I have a sense of organisation when I write it and boy do I have a sense of achievement every time I tick something off it but just like children do not fit into neat little boxes (something we love to say in the sector) they also do not fit into neat little lists.

Children need time, space and freedom to learn and develop through their own choices. I don’t need to harp on about this because by now we should get it, right? But maybe we don’t, I mean Development Matters was the ultimate checklist for many practitioners who used it to tick off what a child can do and what they need to achieve next despite it clearly stating, ‘THIS IS NOT A CHECKLIST’. For me, the reason this document needed an overhaul was because, quite frankly, everyone used it as a checklist because it is an easy way to assess children, but assessment is a rant for another time.

So, after years, literally years of people ranting and raving about development matters (mostly its inappropriate use as a checklist) the Department for Education decide a revised edition is in order – HOORAY – and this new document removes checklist mentality by creating a……. checklist. Okay, so I think you get where I am going with this but, in all seriousness, when looking at the learning and development of young children a list is the most obvious and simplest way to convey this information, so you know let’s give the DfE a break here. Anyway, the revised Development Matters has gone some way to remove checklist mentality; it has seriously slimmed down the number of statements and the wording, for me, is SPOT ON - ‘3&4-year-olds will be learning to:’, ‘Children in reception will be learning to:’ – this puts the emphasis back on the practitioner to provide learning opportunities rather than a statement which a child needs to meet. Development Matters lacks depth in many ways but also concisely covers many moot points such as what the curriculum should cover, what pedagogy is (I am here for including the word pedagogy) and assessment, stating clearly, ‘Assessment is about noticing what children can do and what they know. It is not about lots of data and evidence.’. In the prime areas there are checkpoints which emphasises the importance of those areas and is a clear way to detect if a child isn’t where they should typically be. All of that said, one of the biggest praises I have for this document is that it has clearly distinguished what children should be learning in reception, this is very much needed to ensure that teaching young children is not a ‘top-down’ approach and allows practitioners to feel more comfortable that they don’t need to push children through the statements quicker but, instead, push children deeper into their learning.

However, many people still weren’t happy with the revised document and so Birth to 5 Matters was born and the catchy line ‘by the sector, for the sector’ was thrown around like confetti. I was so excited for this document because it was backed by so many people who inspire me in the sector but it was all a little underwhelming. I really feel bad for saying this because I know lots of hard work has gone into it but the saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ comes to mind. In the early years we all have passions and agendas and things we want to push, I think that even with a shared aim it feels as though personal agendas got in the way when it came to condensing this document down and making it a working document. I also fully understand that you can only condense guidance so far when there are lots of important aspects to mention so I could completely understand this document being lengthy were it not for the fact that 65 pages of it are essentially a checklist that mimics the 2012 Development Matters. I just cannot comprehend the thinking behind mimicking a document that is already being used as a checklist and is NOT working, furthermore, the bands are just confusing and the ranges just feel like a way to try and appease everyone.

Pros and cons aside, 2012 Development Matters was used predominantly, rightly or wrongly, for the learning and development section. We, as a workforce, have been conditioned to rely on statements and lists so naturally most practitioners will be looking at this section as a priority when it comes to the newer documents, I have already seen documents created that combine all the statements (from DM and Birthto5) for assessment purposes. Basically, what I am trying to say is that the most crucial thing these documents needed to address was checklist mentality and I will leave you to decide if they did.


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