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.


Marking Time

Right now, we might just be seeing a hint of the tide turning against the mad workload with which teachers are burdened. Some more enlightened headteachers – usually those with the confidence of great pupil attainment and progress as a foundation – are beginning to expect less of their staff rather than more.  However, many school leaders are still – understandably – pinned down by the fear of an Ofsted judgement that might be less than good and these folk are finding it hard to release the pressure.  So this blog is about facing reality when it comes to marking.

Much good work has been done around effective feedback. By and large teachers really understand the principle of showing pupils what they have done successfully, what might be their next steps and how to achieve them. But this can become intolerably burdensome. We ned to be confident enough to strike a balance between effective feedback and ponderous detailed marking where the teacher has sometime written more than the pupil. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.

I recently led a review of a vulnerable secondary school. Clearly, leadership were very concerned that marking/feedback was diagnostic, interactive and effective. And there was a real appreciation that leaders should lessen the teacher’s load wherever possible. In practice this meant that English work was marked every three weeks. Good for the teacher, but when we spoke to students they told us, ‘we don’t get our work back quickly enough and, when we do get feedback, it’s sometime too late for us to remember what we had been doing.’ Contrast this with the Science department. On the surface, marking looked a bit haphazard and superficial but what was really happening was that the teacher had a pink and a green marker, students knew that green was good and pink needed attention. As the lesson progressed, the teacher whizzed round the class, looked at developing work in books, and quickly highlighted what needed to be drawn to students’ attention. The result was that everyone knew how well they were doing and what needed attention. because this was while the lesson was in progress, students who needed help could ask for it and get it instantly. Intervention at the point of learning. Which lot of students had the best feedback?  And which took the least time?

This is a message for teachers fighting with a marking load.  We need to be clear who is the audience for our marking.  Is it for Ofsted?  Is it for SLT monitors, or is it for the pupils? The right answer is the last one but how many teachers mark for the first two constituencies? A starting point might be to have a professional discussion with colleagues and leaders around this point.  Look, if the expectation is that you provide detailed, forensic feedback which is accompanied by a follow-up task that you then need to mark. How much work is this?  And how much of it is really effective. A primary teacher taking home 30 books and expecting to mark 30 pieces of pupil response may as well be taking home 60 books. Spare a thought for the secondary English teacher taking home 200 books!

The most effective feedback is always with the child present – it’s a conversation. Or hold the diagnostic discussion with a group. Your task is not to set the child a follow-on task, so much as to find out what they are thinking, why they don’t get it, what is it they don’t understand. Far more powerful than writing a long screed they don’t really understand and setting an activity that they will complete in the way they think YOU want, rather than applying deep understanding. As Doug Lemov ( points out in Teach Like a Champion 2.0, we should never accept kids’ self-reporting. Don’t assume they know just because they say so. Ask a deep question to check it out.

I saw some great feedback recently. The teacher had written, ‘six of these sums are wrong. Which one are they?’  Great marking – it makes the pupil think.

Ross McGill (Teacher Toolkit) has sensible things to say about marking and feedback. Check out his ten marking tips at Also, check out his Five Minute Marking plan at

We’ll come back to this issue of marking quite soon.



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.

Calling Year 6 Teachers

As an Osiris presenter, I have had a lot of fun over the last academic year with my best-selling course, ‘The Future of KS1 and KS2 Testing’. In a fast-changing world I have had to alter the presentation every term and, in the summer term, every time. We have a term and a half to go with yet another version of the original. However, Osiris also asked me to develop a short-window course for the autumn term only called Year 6 Certainty. It’s aimed at all those Year 6 teachers who are worrying about the upcoming year now that they could be playing catch-up with the programmes of study, chasing progress and yet having no levels by which to judge it.

This blog is the first of a short series aimed at exactly that cohort.

Year 6 teachers tell me, I am new this year in year 6 and really worried about the SATS, I don’t know what I should be doing to ensure that the children are properly prepared. The short answer is that the worst thing to do is worry – nothing breeds anxiety like uncertainty. So, let’s look at some of the things that have changed. Over the course of a few blogs we’ll:

  • Explore the background to the new curriculum so that you understand why we are at this point.
  • Explain the new thinking and the move away from progress at any price.
  • Examine expectations and implications for teaching and learning in the new Yr 6 curriculum.
  • Extend ways to develop conceptual understanding and make problem solving     an integral part of the curriculum and assessment.
  • Explore the new KS2 SATS so that you know what to expect.

The background to the changes

There are, arguably four themes here; a global dimension, an historical one, a political one and an educational one.

You cannot be unaware of the constant reference to international comparisons, to PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS. The first of these, the five yearly Programme for International Student Achievement showed that, in 2014, the UK had shifted little from its 2009 position with slight improvements in reading and maths but a drop-off in science. Similarly, the four-yearly Trends in International Maths and Science Study revealed that, in 2011, England was in the world’s top ten for maths but had slipped to 15th in Science. We can probably explain the science fall by the end of a science focus and testing in KS2. Worryingly, the five yearly Progress in International Reading Literacy study indicated that, in 2011 the reading performance of English children had plummeted from 3rd to 19th in the world (usually 40 nations). So much for the Primary Literacy Strategy! These international comparisons play a major part in driving government policy.

The history of the national curriculum dates from the 1988 Education Act, with the last revision in 2000. It was time for a change, come what may. At the end of the 2011 review process, Tim Oates, Chair of the Expert Panel, declared, ‘I hope that what we have done … is to return to the kind of trajectory of refinement that was present in the (earlier versions) of the National Curriculum. There has been a change of emphasis since 2000, from ‘pupils should be able to…’ to ‘pupils should be taught to…’

The political forces behind the recent changes come from right-wing thinking, often based on (not a right wing book), “The Knowledge Deficit” by E D Hirsch Junior. There was a strong sense that we needed to be much more explicit about the content of the curriculum. This, together with the change from ‘able to’ to ‘taught to’ is a fundamental difference and a reminder that teachers, So, the first thing you can do is to check your subject knowledge against the demands of the English, Maths and Science programmes of study and, where you find there are gaps, do something to fill them. You can’t get away with winging it. Not any more.  

The main change in educational thinking is the idea of ‘consolidation before progression. This is a major shift in thinking. Year 6 teachers need to become much better at understanding how children learn. There is a new focus on the cognitive domain as well as the content one.

In the next blog we will look in more detail about the new idea of progress.