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What does Ofsted's report, Finding the optimum, tell us about the assessment of primary science?

“Ensure that assessment checks whether pupils remember the substantive and disciplinary knowledge they have learned in previous years. This includes checking that they can use their substantive and disciplinary knowledge to select, plan and carry out different types of relevant scientific enquiry.”

Not every topic features in every year-group in Key Stages 1 and 2, and not every topic provides opportunities to use the full range of working scientifically skills, so it is important to establish whether pupils can remember the knowledge learnt previously that the new learning builds on. If pupils do not remember that prior learning, it is important to revisit it to ensure they are secure in it before moving on to the new content.


The PLAN Knowledge Matrices provide teachers with the prior learning for each topic in each year-group and the PLAN Progression in Working Scientifically Skills provides the equivalent for the disciplinary knowledge. Teachers should use elicitation activities to establish whether pupils remember the related prior learning and, if not, revisit it to ensure pupils are secure in it before proceeding to teach them the new content. The PLAN Progression in Vocabulary and Vocabulary Posters support this process by featuring both the vocabulary and learning from previous year-groups from the topic and other linked topics.


To address Ofsted’s concern that “generalised judgements at the end of a piece of learning were being made against age-related expectations, but what these grades represented in relation to the curriculum was not clear”, schools should consider using assessment trackers, such as our Simple Assessment Tracker and Working Scientifically Skills Progression & Tracker Sheet or equivalents. This allows teachers to record their assessment judgements for each pupil against each statement for each topic or working scientifically skill. They can use the ‘Key learning’ and ‘Possible evidence’ from the PLAN Knowledge Matrices, and the additional guidance in the PLAN Working Scientifically Matrices, to inform their judgements and ensure they have covered all the necessary knowledge. The PLAN Examples of Work, that illustrate what the work of a child who is secure in the knowledge looks like for each topic in each year-group, can be used to support the consistency of these judgements. This should enable teachers to capture assessment information that is clearly linked to the curriculum that can then be passed on to teachers in future years.


The report indicates that “In some schools, assessment as learning was sometimes taking place at the expense of assessment for learning. Some pupils were asked to recall knowledge that they had not successfully learned first time around.” In these circumstances, using assessment as a retrieval strategy is going to be ineffective as pupils have not successfully learnt the knowledge in the first place.


Bearing in mind Ofsted’s report records that sometimes “there was insufficient time in the curriculum for pupils to secure key knowledge”, creating more opportunities for pupils to practise and consolidate the learning and using those activities for assessment is a better use of the time available than retrieval practice which only highlights what the pupils have not learnt.


This is not to say that retrieval practice does not have its place, but it may not be the most effective method of assessing whether pupils have successfully learnt the knowledge intended before moving on to new content. It may be more effectively used to ensure that pupils have retained what they have already learnt.


Our next blog will focus on the leadership of primary science.

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