What are the challenges in assessing pupils working below the expected standard?

Thanks to Lorraine Petersen, Independent Educational Consultant - Former Chief Executive of Nasen, for the following article.


Setting the scene

Statutory assessment plays an important role in ensuring that every child is supported to leave primary school prepared to succeed. It is crucial that every school is able to demonstrate every pupil’s personal attainment and progress not just at the end of a key stage but throughout their primary education.

Those pupils who have not completed the relevant programmes of study when they reach the appropriate age for statutory assessments do not have the knowledge and skills to achieve expected standard in the national curriculum tests. This is a diverse group including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with English as an additional language. Schools have to look for other ways to monitor and celebrate success and progress for this group of pupils.

P Scales

P scales were introduced in 1998 to sit below level 1 of the old national curriculum. They were developed for those teachers working with children with complex needs who found that the national curriculum level descriptors started at too high a point for their pupils.

Currently it is a statutory requirement to use P scales to assess and report on the attainment of pupils with SEND who are not working at the standard of mainstream statutory assessments. The removal of levels and the introduction of the new national curriculum in 2014 mean that the P scales are not aligned and this has caused increased challenge for schools due to the significant gap between the outcomes of P8 and those at the end of Year 1.

This dichotomy prompted the government to establish the independent Rochford Review to look at the appropriateness and effectiveness of assessment arrangements for those pupils working below the standard of national curriculum.

Interim recommendations from Rochford Review

In December 2015, the Rochford Review published a set of interim pre-key stage standards for the statutory assessment of those pupils who are not assessed using P scales but are working below the standard of the national curriculum tests. Each of these pre-key stage standards consists of a number of ‘can do’ statements to be used at the end of a key stage.

If a school decides not to enter a pupil for the test or if a teacher does not have evidence that a pupil consistently meets all the statements in the interim teacher assessment framework, the interim pre-key stage standards should be used to provide a statutory outcome for the pupil unless their attainment is being reported using P scales.

Schools should have used interim pre-key stage standards for the last two years to reflect the progress of those pupils who are working below the end-of-key stage expected standards but are not on P scales.

The further challenge for schools has been to develop a process that measures progress within each key-stage (half-termly, termly and annually). This has resulted in many schools either devising their own assessment monitoring programmes or buying into a commercial scheme, but often these do not support those pupils working below expected standard.

We are still awaiting the government’s response on the final recommendations of the Rochford Review so in the short term schools continue to use P Scales and interim pre-key stage standards to monitor progress of those working below the national curriculum expectations for their year group.


The national curriculum sets out the content that should be taught in each year group throughout key stage 1 and key stage 2. Each year’s programmes of study builds on the previous year’s content. For pupils working below expected standards, the curriculum can be overwhelming, challenging and inaccessible.

Teachers need to consider the non-negotiable elements of each year’s content. Senior Leaders and teachers should decide what, in English and Maths, MUST be taught in each year group. These elements are then taught in depth to all pupils, with additional support and practice for those pupils who are unable to access learning at the first attempt. Not until mastery in a subject/topic is achieved should teaching move to the next step. This will ensure that all pupils have the key knowledge and skills when they move to the next year group. These become the non-negotiable aspects of teaching and learning in each year group. Schools can then track and monitor progress across the non-negotiable aspects and not across every aspect of the programme of study.

Four years after the introduction of the revised national curriculum we have a Year 6 cohort who will have been taught the complete key stage 2 national curriculum. It is hoped that this will make a significant difference to the key stage 2 SATs in 2018; they should have the knowledge and skills to be able to complete the statutory assessments with confidence and ease.

However, there will still be a group of pupils that will be working below national expected standards who may have missed out on a great deal of the key stage 2 curriculum because they could not keep up. Schools need to reflect on their practice to enable staff to teach these pupils in an inclusive way and to meet individual needs, resulting in progress and achievement from an individual’s starting point.


Resources you may find useful:

SNAP: our unique Special Needs Assessment Profile, to identify specific learning difficulties. Find out more.


assessment, english, key stage 1, key stage 2, maths, SATs, SEN, SEND, special education needs, statutory tests

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