Beatrice Merrick on using Birth to 5 Matters
EYFS Series Part 1:
Following the recent EYFS reforms, we are completely changing how we allow our practitioners to add their observations and assessments, making it a very practitioner led process. Our Product Owner for iConnect, Zaibaa Wildeman, has been working in tandem with nurseries to offer a system that is free moving and flexible, one where the framework is surfaced and then practitioners can decide what sort of interaction they have with it.
As part of this project, we recently had a very productive discussion with Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive at Early Education and Chair of the Early Years Coalition who developed Birth to 5 Matters. Beatrice is busy managing how Birth to 5 Matters links with electronic systems, helping us connect our approach to the new statutory framework with the Birth to 5 Matters guidance. We wanted to discuss our vision for Connect Childcare’s ‘Re-imagined Add Screen’ within iConnect and make sure this would work in a way that fits in with their ethos.
In order for this interface to align with Birth to 5 Matters and allow practitioners to use this guidance for the EYFS, we asked Beatrice to break down:
- What the guidance aims to do,
- How we should be interpreting it, and
- How can practitioners implement it – in practice!
This is something Beatrice wanted to make clear. She understands that it can get confusing as to which bits people have to do and which parts are voluntary, so it’s important to recognise that the EYFS is a statutory framework (so it’s compulsory for everyone) and Birth to 5 Matters is non-statutory guidance. Practitioners can choose to follow this guidance to implement the EYFS reforms in a pedagogically sound, principled and evidenced-based way in developing their own curriculum. This guidance has been developed ‘by the sector, for the sector’, involving key research and focus groups with Early Years Coalition member organisations, practitioners and parents.
Beatrice explains that if practitioners start with asking these questions, they might get a very different set of answers on what sort of data they need to keep, compared to doing what they’ve done for the last few years. Having some very broad information management so that you can see the particular groups of children that are doing less well in certain areas of learning, and if there are any particular patterns that management needs to know about, could be useful.
Beatrice says the whole process of assessment in the Early Years could be done with no physical evidence whatsoever – if you know your children, you know your children. So there’s no intrinsic need for evidence, it should only be collected if it serves a purpose for you as a practitioner. For example, if you’re wanting to share observations with other practitioners or settings and benchmark and agree about the assessments you’re carrying out, or if you’re having to assess a child in relation to SEND then you might need a record of evidence for the assessment process. It really is about what you need. Ofsted are very clear that they won’t be looking at data, so don’t collect it for them, and there’s no need to collect evidence purely for moderation or local authorities. You can decide what you as a practitioner find useful and what material you might need to help you see a child’s progress over time.
The areas of learning in Birth to 5 Matters have been ordered with Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED) coming first, while the new Statutory Framework has put Communication and Language first. Beatrice explains that they did not structure it in this way because one area of learning is more primary than another. Instead, they wanted to stick with the original ordering from the previous iterations of the EYFS that recognize, if you think of it partly chronologically in terms of younger children, it is those characteristics of PSED which are perhaps developing most evidently. What is more important than the order in which they are listed is to take a holistic approach, and to recognise the importance of supporting the prime areas for all children, but especially for the youngest.
The guidance keeps the Observation, Assessment and Planning cycle at the heart of our practice. Many settings do this by keeping learning journals and Beatrice still recognizes a need for this because partnership with parents is so important. She points out that these journals not only allow for two-way communication between nurseries and parents, but they encourage that metacognitive process where the child can revisit things they’ve done and reflect on what they’ve learned. In this way, learning journals can potentially maintain that core role that they’ve always had in the Early Years. Beatrice reiterates that you shouldn’t feel like you have to stick something in them every day, however, if what you are putting in them is informative to parents, is helpful for the children to reflect, and is helpful for you as practitioners, then that’s a good sign that they’re still worth doing.
Birth to 5 Matters is not to be used as a checklist to steer each unique child through a prescribed path with required ‘next steps’. However, the guidance does suggest next steps adults might take to support a child’s development and learning. Beatrice explains that the columns about Positive Relationships and Enabling Environments are all about this. It’s no good looking at the development statements about where a child typically is in isolation. The point of having those statements is to understand child development and the typical ways it can progress, but also to understand how that translates into learning. This is when an adult can recognise where a child is now and know what steps they need to take as a practitioner to help them move on. You see what they’ve got the hang of and then give them one little bit of challenge that takes them beyond that, rather than trying to suddenly introduce them to something much more complicated that is too big a jump. It’s about making sure children have enough time to consolidate their learning but also have an appropriate amount of challenge so that they don’t stagnate or go backwards. Adults need to be able to correctly identify what that bit of challenge is so they can keep building on what they’ve got.
Unlike the new EYFS framework, technology has been maintained as an aspect within Birth to 5 Matters and it supports children to make sense of the digital world. The Early Years Coalition felt that it was a shame that the new statutory framework took technology out and just assumed that the digital underpins everything. Beatrice says the way the government has re-classed Understanding the World is not particularly helpful. It would have been nice to see a much more holistic approach, looking at all of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects together. Birth to 5 Matters has referenced technology alongside the Understanding the World aspect of STEM because they believe that connection is really important. She also appreciates that it’s an area where practitioners don’t get an awful lot of training or support, so these explicit references are in there to keep technology on people’s radar as an important area.
Birth to 5 Matters seems to be about paying attention to, responding to, and encouraging learning through a child’s interests. Many of you have been wondering, if you use this approach, how you will sufficiently broaden children’s experiences outside their initial interests. For example, how will phonics be taught as this may not necessarily emerge naturally through responding to children’s interests? Beatrice reminds us that phonics shouldn’t really be a focus until reception. What’s important at this pre-reception level is developing children’s phonological awareness; are they hearing the sounds properly and are they starting to recognize letters in their environment? This allows them to very quickly pick up the phonics once they start learning it. It’s not about limiting a child to their expressed interests and saying, ‘this child is only interested in bugs, so I’m only going to talk about bugs’. What you do is use this as a great starting point. In terms of maths, this could influence the way you talk about the number, the shape, the size, and the patterns. Or, in terms of PSED, you can consider how they are sharing this interest with other children and whether they are showing empathy for these creatures. Any little incident demonstrates many (if not all) the areas of learning, so it’s about trying to be holistic in that approach and consider things more broadly. You can take the child out of the setting to experience something that hooks into one of their interests but is still new and different.
As we continue to work with Beatrice and the Early Years Coalition on a way to incorporate Birth to 5 Matters into iConnect, we hope you find these insights as helpful as we did! This is the first piece in the EYFS Series we are running to get you prepared for September. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon with EY experts and guest speakers including June O’Sullivan, Sue Asquith and Julian Grenier.