Assessing primary pupils in PE

Today, I was talking to a secondary PE teacher. We were chatting about assessment and how secondary schools assessed Year 7 students on entry. This teacher explained how much time is wasted in secondary PE departments in assessing students’ skills and starting points when they join the school. If only, he said, primary schools could assess their Y6 pupils before they transfer to secondary schools. So this is a plea to primary colleagues to ensure that our Y6 pupils have the very best opportunities to move forward in PE when they enter KS3. You never know, we may start a trend.

But, where to begin? Fortunately we don’t need to re-invent the wheel because there are a few resources out there to help. Some of them will cost more than others, and many are free. Obviously, the paid resources are relatively superior but you’ll need to decide if the benefit justifies the cost. Two starting points might be The PE Hub (don’t confuse the UK version with the US one), which offers a subscription service that gives access to plans, resources and assessment information. Alternatively, primary schools might like the PE Passport, which is an app that offers teachers online planning, assessment and tracking tools.

However, if you don’t want to spend loads of money, there are some free assessment tools on offer from schools. I have reviewed several and have not be super-impressed by many, especially those that replace levels with levels by another name. However, a TES user, going by the name of Hilly100m, has put onto the TES resource site a really super set of downloads for PE assessment – and they are free. One commentator seemed concerned that you’d need a sheet per pupil but a) how difficult is that? And b) if you’ve the time, it is easy to use the sheets as the basis of an excel spreadsheet. As a starting point for primary PE assessment, I would highly recommend this download. Follow this link – but to connect you’ll need to be logged in to TES.

Even if you only use this for your departing Year 6 pupils, it will be very helpful to the PE Department(s) in their secondary school(s). You might need to provide them with a set of the assessment grids to help them understand your judgements. If you think this is a good idea, spread the word.

Progress in Year 6 from 2015

One thing that Year 6 teachers will need to assimilate is that they will no longer be chasing Level 6, or even Level 5. However, the need to demonstrate progress has not gone away and, it could be argued, has never been stronger.

One of the difficulties even the most up-to-date and enlightened Y6 teacher may encounter is a school leadership team that does not quite get the change in what progress might look like and so want to express starting points and progress in levels, or points, or some old familiar measure. And some LAs are still undergoing this transitional thinking. Take Hertfordshire, for instance, where we may no longer speak of Level 3A, 3B and 3C but we do speak of C1, C2 and C3! Senior colleagues cannot be blamed for feeling nervous about this – it’s the climate we work in where jobs are on the line if progress is below it.

The key message – for all teachers, not just those in Year 6 – is that the principle on which the new approach is predicated is that of consolidation before progression. In other words, a focus on the secure acquisition of concepts so that they can be applied with increasing confidence. In the National Curriculum for mathematics it clearly states that, ‘the majority of pupils should move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace.’ Now, that may change thinking about setting and differentiation. It is, in maths, the development of fluency through problem-solving, of which the product is reasoning. And this curriculum is all about developing pupils’ reasoning. If this works in maths then it will work in other subjects. We develop pupils’ fluency in English through reading and grammar, we set them problems – we might call it writing – and the result is reasoning. Or in PE, we teach ball skills, we set problems such as organising a game and the result is, again, developed thinking.

If we apply this model to looking at progress we might think that, rather than the old model of teaching a concept, setting some differentiated tasks that enable pupils to practice applying the concept and then moving them on, we use a modified approach. This might be similar at the outset; we still need to know pupils’ starting points before we teach them the new concepts. We still need to set up activities that enable them to apply the concepts but now things change. Rather than saying, ’okay you’ve got that, let’s move on’, we are now looking for ways to deepen the understanding of the concept. This idea of deep learning – long a phrase associated with Leuven and the early years – is key. If we see differentiation as deepening conceptualisation and not broadening it then we begin to get the idea. When the concept has been acquired, applied, tested and deepened, then we can move the pupils onto new learning.

That is how we need to see the new understanding of progress. How we capture it is another thing. But it’s a starting point.