Student’s perspectives on the new Early Years Foundation Stage (2021) and the Birth to Five Matters (2021) documentation

It has been an interesting time in the early years sector, particularly in the past couple of years as the government have created a new release of the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS) (DfE, 2021). In response to this, the Early Years Coalition has developed new Birth to Five Matters advice, which aims to be "direction guidance by the sector, for the sector" (Birth to Five Matters, 2021) to support practitioners in implementing the new EYFS (DfE, 2021), which came into effect in September 2021. The Coalition state that the document has been developed from research and has drawn on the experiences of the early years workforce.

Many components of the documents are complementary, such as the 'Characteristics of Effective Learning' and the educational aspects of the EYFS, formally known as the Early Learning Goals. While the Development Matters (DfE, 2021) document lists "Seven Key Features of Effective Practice, “the theme of Birth to Five Matters (2021) is "Foundations of Highest Quality Provision for Children." Both documents place the child at the centre of practice, with the Birth to Five Matters documents emphasising and aligning aspects of the document to articles highlighted within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), citing the importance of "the child's connections within family, communities, cultures, and the natural world." Both documents recognise the necessity of collaboration with parents and the critical role that parents play in their child's development.

Emma Twigg and Nyree Nicholson are Strategy group members on the Policy, Lobbying and Advocacy Strategy group for the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network (ECSDN). Emma works at the University of Derby with undergraduate practitioners who attend early years placements as part of the degree and Nyree works at Bishop Grosseteste University with Foundation Degree students who must be employed or volunteer in settings for at least 12 hours per week. We were interested to know what the practitioners themselves had to say about both the EYFS (2021) and the new Birth to Five Matters (2021) frameworks.

During recent taught sessions students shared how they were supporting children since September 2021. One student stated that they did not understand the new EYFS and so continued to use the previous version (DfE, 2012). Other students stated that they were using the new 2021 EYFS, however, were disappointed that they had not received any specific guidance on how to use it. They reflected that the changes are so different, that it has made it difficult for them to know what to do.

Kirsty a level 5 student is using the EYFS (DfE, 2021) documentation and said:
‘The new guidance has given us a chance for children to take more control of their play and adults less time on paperwork meaning more time with the children’

Kirsty’s setting reviewed both the Birth to Five Matters (2021) and the Development Matters documentation (DfE, 2021) during the summer before they came into effect and felt that Ofsted would want to see settings using this documentation which supported their choice.

Chloe, a Level 5 student said:
‘I feel the new EYFS gives practitioners more time to interact and play with children as it consists of a lot less paperwork which is amazing, however, there is less emphasis on assessment, which is all we have ever been told to do- assess the children! I feel like this is leaving practitioners confused for their role and uncertain on what they are actually supposed to be doing and feeling like they aren’t ‘evidencing’ enough for the children through paperwork and learning journals.’

Chloe’s comments resonated with other students who talked about using online observations to ‘click’ a whole area of learning in an age range but without adding any context to what the child was doing. The response from students using Birth to Five Matters (2021) was much more positive, however, students stated that they struggled with how much content there was, and due to continued staffing shortages, they had little time to fully engage with new documentation.

On talking to early years practitioners, they say that they are just starting to understand how both documents ‘can be useful when used together’. They recognise the emphasis placed on ‘less paperwork and observations’ and how the developmental statements ‘although broad, acknowledge the very nature of the unique child’. Therefore, early indications appear to suggest that both forms of documentation have advantages and limitations as would be expected when getting used to different ways of working.

The ECSDN (2022) has members from universities within the UK who offer the BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies degree. The network campaigns ‘for a high-status early childhood graduate profession’. In doing this, they ‘provide a critical perspective…. for the advancement of early years policies…’ such as the Birth to Five Matters (2021) and the Early Years Foundation Stage (2021). All early childhood graduates of the member universities can access the ECSDN materials and contribute to the activities of the network, this includes the Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies, allowing early childhood graduates to demonstrate their level 6 competency in practice.

Reference List:

  • DfE (2012) Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. London: Crown Copyright
  • DfE (2021) Development Matters: Non-statutory curriculum guidance for the early years foundation stage. London: Crown Copyright.
  • Early Education (2021) Birth to 5 Matters: Non-statutory guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage. St Albans: Early Years Coalition
  • Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network (2022) Our Aims. Available at:

Emma Twigg and Nyree Nicholson
(Strategy Group Members: Policy, Lobbying and Advocacy: Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network)