How can attainment and progress be recorded and tracked?

Assessmentis defined by Paul Black& Dylan Wiliamasall those activities undertaken by teachers, and by the students in assessingthemselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.”

                                                                                               Inside the Black Box, 1998, p.2

Assessment is a continual process in which teachers analyse and possibly record representative information. They utilise this to make decisions about how pupils’ learning and development can be supported.  Such assessment evidence needs to be derived from as wide a variety of sources as possible in order to provide most reliable foundation for judgements.


This is a measure of a pupil's achievement in schoolwhich compares every child to a standardised expectation for their age, regardless of their individual starting points.  Schoolsare judged by the attainmentof their pupils, but also by the progress that they make.


Broadly speaking, progress representsthe measurable improvement which pupils make as they advance through and beyond school, and the development of their range of skills, knowledge and attributes they need to succeed in learning, life and work.

However, ‘progressmeasures’ aim to capture the improvementthat pupils make from the end of key stage 1 to the end of their time in primary school.  They are a type of value-added measure, where pupils' results are compared to the actual achievements of other pupils nationally with similar prior attainment.  As this depends on results, it cannot be determined in advance.

‘Expected progress’is a myth; it simply does not exist and it is futile to attempt to assign a number or a percentage to it. Predicting'expectedprogress’in Key Stage 2 is a pointless attempt to quantify how many pupils will meet standards at the end of Year 6.  ‘Expected progress’ was removed as an accountability measure in 2015 by the DfE.  Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director of Education, has publicly stated that, ‘expected progress is old money’. #Ofsted@HarfordSean                                                                                                                                


This should not be confused with or viewed as the assessment process itself.  As Jan Dubiel comments in his book Effective Assessment in the Early Years Foundation Stage (2014) ‘Assessment is the accurate and usable knowing and understanding of children, not the quantity or form of recorded information.’   What teachers choose to record needs to be governed by its usefulness to them in providing a clear picture of the pupil’s skills, knowledge and understanding.  There is little benefit to be had from making masses of notes, ticking pages of boxes or entering large amounts of data in an electronic system if the result lacks clarity and insight.  Proficient teachers know their pupils well and records should support that professional knowledge, but fall far short of replacing it.

Much time and effort is often afforded to the development of recording formats.  However, it is the format that works best for the school and enables teachers to know how well their pupils are doing at the point they have reached in the curriculum that will be of maximum benefit.  Then what is absolutely critical is how teachers make use of this information to support pupils’ learning and development.  

A successful recording system should:

  • be simple to use and easily understood by teachers and parents
  • relate to the curriculum and key indicators about attainment and progress as determined by the school
  • use language that is sensitive to all pupils, especially those whose attainment is currently below the age-related expectations


In order to know something about pupils and what their performance indicates about how they are likely to achieve, meaningful information is needed.  Teachers need to know what happens to this information and what to do as a result of collecting and manipulating it.  The acid test of any system of data collection is to pose the question “Is having this information helping teachers to understand what individual pupils specifically can do and what they are struggling with and to plan support appropriately?”

The word ‘tracking’ generally refers to a system of recording over time what pupils have learnt at specified key points.  As with recording, tracking must not be confused with the assessment process.  

James Pembroke has usefully identified six aspects of tracking for schools to bear in mind when deciding whether the tracking system they wish to adopt is fit for purpose.  These have been adapted and summarised below:

  1. Unhook teacher assessment from performance management

Many schools make the mistake of using tracking data to set performance management targets.  This is problematic because the reliability of data is rapidly compromised since teachers are under pressure to ensure the numbers go up every term.  The danger is that outcomes are made to match the targets and the data loses its ability to truly reflect pupils’ learning.  The system needs to help teachers, not pressurise them.

  1. Make the system a teaching tool rather than an accountability device

Frequently external scrutiny becomes an overriding consideration, i.e. ‘What do we need for Ofsted?’  Ofsted has no preferred approach and as Sean Harford, National Director, Education stated in an Update in January 2019performance measures are not all we should look at and data should not be ‘king’.  It should not be allowed to create an environment in schools that has them repeatedly and excessively measuring and recording pupil progress and attainment in ways that are not always valid, reliable or useful to teachers and pupils…….Inspectors will use published, national performance data as a starting point in inspection, but data is only ever that, a starting point.’  

This applies equally to LAs, RSCs, governors and consultants – systems must not be chosen or designed to satisfy them.  A system that is generated to serve teachers will best serve the pupils and their learning and the school as a whole.  Essential questions to ask are ‘Who is it for?’, ‘Why do they need it?’, ‘What does it tell you?’

  1. The less complex, the better

Some systems are very large and take prodigious amounts of time to learn to use and regular training is required to keep users’ knowledge current.  More features are added at regular intervals and simply keeping pace with them all is exhausting. In addition, teachers get overwhelmed by the many graphs, charts, tables and reports that can be generated.

Other systems are leaner and nimbler; they offer the means to tackle the task yet are simple to use – they make the complex easy.  Complexity demands time to navigate the intricacies of the system and if these are a feature, then teachers will try and use them.  If they are not, teachers can’t spend time on them, which releases their time for more important activities.  Dividing what a school needs from a tracking system into what is useful, what might be useful and what will never be used, the first category will probably be the smallest, i.e. a tracking grid with pupils’ names set against curriculum objectives plus a few useful reports.

  1. Avoid reconstructing levels

Many systems use the ’emerging, developing, secure’ bands and frequently these labels do nothing more than reflect the percentage of objectives achieved which is not the same as how securely pupils are working within the curriculum.  In reality the terminology is more about coverage rather than depth, understanding and mastery.  In the autumn term most pupils would be described as ‘emerging’, in the spring term as ‘developing and in the summer term ‘secure’.  When a point score is applied to each band, then a linear point scale can be established and an expected rate of progress generated for all pupils.  There is little difference between this and previous expectations that were in use across, for example in Year 5, 3b (21), 3b+ (22), 3a (23), 3a+ (24).  Rather than reconstruct levels, schools may prefer to consider a pupil to be ‘secure’ when they have grasped what is being taught and are comfortable with the demands of the curriculum, irrespective of the time of year.

  1. Don’t get preoccupied with quantifying progress

Schools need to stop believing that numbers show progress – they don’t.  What they indicate is that a requisite number of boxes were ticked in the tracking system and it was ensured that the numbers went up.  Making the progress measure the central focus of thinking and the raison d’etre of the system reduces learning artificially down to a single number.  Systems need to focus on the curriculum and track and highlight gaps in pupils’ learning.  Trying to represent the curriculum as a set of preordained points scores so a numerical value can be afforded to progress which no one should be asking for and that tells schools nothing of value is a waste of time.  To shrink learning down to a simple number eclipses the need for accuracy, usefulness and meaning.  A linear points scale has no hope of representing progress which consists of catching up, filling gaps, broadening and deepening understanding and dealing with obstacles.  Tracking the gaps in learning will mean that progress will be taken care of.

  1. Schools should not compromise their approach to fit their tracking system

The software chosen needs to be flexible enough to adapt to whatever approach the school takes to assessment and to adjust as the approach develops.  Teachers will complain that the system they are using doesn’t work for them.  They soldier on trying to find ways around the issues, sifting through many reports to find something that is of use and being frustrated by ill–fitting criteria that bear little resemblance to their curriculum.  If a school’s system cannot be adjusted to be more suitable to its needs the system needs changing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Adapted from James Pembroke, Sig+, The Five Golden Rules of Tracking, April 15th2016 N.B.  The sixth rule James added in July 2018.

Many schools spend a great deal of time producing pupil group-level data.  The usefulness of such data is questionable. Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector, has spoken unequivocally about this and has indicated what she expects schools and school leaders to be doing in this respect:

‘……schools have been increasingly expected to break pupil data down by ever smaller groups to analyse performance. Let me be clear again, we do not expect to see 6 week tracking of pupil progress and vast elaborate spreadsheets. What I want school leaders to discuss with our inspectors is what they expect pupils to know by certain points in their life, and how they know they know it. And crucially, what the school does when it finds out they don’t! These conversations are much more constructive than inventing byzantine number systems which, let’s be honest, can often be meaningless.’

 Amanda Spielman’s speech at the Bryanston Education Summit, 6thJune 2018

In addition, the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook (EIF), published in May 2019 advises that “The Teacher Workload Advisory Group’s report, ‘Making data work’, recommends that school leaders should not have more than two or three data collection points a year, and that these should be used to inform clear actions…….

If a school’s system for data collection is disproportionate, inefficient or unsustainable for staff, inspectors will reflect this in their reporting on the school.” (Page 45, para. 185 & 186)

This is refreshing and definitive guidance from official sources which indicates that far less complex systems are required by schools thus releasing them to focus more on their core business, teaching and learning.

It is important that any information is used effectively.  Page 47, para.194 of the Handbook adds that‘Inspectors will ask schools to explain why they have decided to collect whatever assessment data they collect, what they are drawing from their data and how that informs their curriculum and teaching.’  Although detailed analysis of pupil group is not required, the Handbook identifies that one aspect inspectors will consider is the extent to which “Disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND acquire the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.” (Page 47, para.191)


It would be helpful to read this section in conjunction with:

Currently, what will Ofsted expect in relation to assessment, recording and tracking?

What is the place of periodic testing when assessing in the new National Curriculum?


Return to Assessment without levels: Assessment in the context of the National Curriculum