Science Assessment Ladders

Key Stage One Individual Pupil Science Assessment Record with pupil assessment (1)

Lower Key Stage 2 Individual Pupil Science Assessment Record with pupil assessment

Upper Key Stage 2 Individual Pupil Science Assessment Record

These are phase group science learning ladders for the primary science curriculum. As a precursor to using them, I assume hopefully that teachers are using the pupil’s prior science learning as a basis for planning what to teach rather than grabbing plans from books or on-line and just teaching, this is very old hat transmission teaching and kills science! Even better, I hope teachers are allowing children to get excited by a topic, encouraging them to ask questions about the topic and then using those questions to form the basis of the children’s science investigations.


I recommend then using these science learning ladders in the following ways:


  • To baseline assess science knowledge before a topic by for example having a ‘what do you know’ session, or a little quiz type assessment.
  • To assess science skills and knowledge as children learn – the best way to assess!
  • To summarise learning at intervals if needed (like termly or at the end of the year for reporting to parents).
  • To ensure/monitor phase group coverage and thus allow for a more fluid, child led learning cycle.
  • To ensure progression from one year to the next and avoid repetition of learning. Copies should be handed on to the next teacher each year too.
  • For gaps analysis in knowledge so you and the children know where they need to go next. Although, I would say, if you’re providing/allowing a rich child-led enquiry basis for science learning you will find that these relatively simple knowledge objectives are easily learnt. Also please avoid telling the children ‘what they will learn today’ in science as this destroys the ‘finding out’ aspect that is at the core of science learning. Leave sharing the knowledge learning intention until the end – a grand finale! Or better, let them tell you what they learnt and then let them tick it off on the ladder! Magic!
  • For gaps analysis in science skills learning. This will indicate which types of enquiry the children need to do in order to practice specific skills. Then you can choose the children’s questions that fit these enquires. Remember there are five types of enquiry the children need to try in order to hone the necessary scientific skills within working scientifically: Observing over time 2) Identifying and Classifying 3) Pattern seeking 4) Fair testing 5) Research.  The type of enquiry depends on the type of question raised. It is important teachers and children understand this and do not always resort to ‘a fair test’ whenever they do an investigation. A fair test is only one type of investigation and only answers questions which seek to compare variables. Like this, a fair test is one of five different ways to investigate a science question and teachers need to ensure all five ways are used to answer class questions. More can be read about this by reading ‘It’s not Fair,’ by Jane Turner, Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor . I also have a powerpoint on it too which I will post. Importantly, children don’t just learn skills through osmosis, they need them modelling and then they need to practice at them so they develop and become more systematic. So don’t forget to model them well; show them what it’s like being scientific!
  • Previously, I have posted science assessment ladders that have three columns of assessment such as working towards, achieving and exceeding. However, as I have thought about this it doesn’t make sense to try to assess each skill or knowledge criteria like this. For example, ‘to know how the rotation of the earth results in day and night’; you either know this or you don’t so it makes no sense to say working towards knowing this, achieving knowing this or exceeding knowing this. It’s a case of OSD ‘obsessive sub-dividing disorder’ if you start doing that for criteria that are either yes or no!
  • The terms ‘working towards’, ‘achieving’ or ‘exceeding’ should apply to the assessment of the child’s whole learning journey through the phase group learning ladder. However, I would err on the side of caution with ‘exceeding’ as this is a mastery science curriculum and we should think of children going wider rather than further. This means rather than ticking off the learning ladder and then dipping into the next phase group’s learning, teachers should provide rich opportunities for more able children to be challenged in their scientific thinking and to investigate their own questions at a deeper level (think Blooms taxonomy).
  • Importantly, these ladders should also form the basis of frequent phase group moderation in school, and even better still, between schools. Questions at the heart of this should be those such as, ‘what does it look like if a child is working within Year 3 for science?’  ‘Or what does it look like if a child is working towards Year 3?’ Bring your science books and folders let’s share. However, on the table should also be questions such as: ‘what does ‘to understand that light is reflected from surfaces’ look like? or ‘what do we mean ‘ask relevant questions and use different types of scientific enquiries to answer them?’ etc. This means schools are building up a repertoire of exemplary understanding on science assessment; they’re making success criteria for what good science skills and knowledge are themselves rather than ticking a box and hoping they’re right! Or worse taking a test and finding out what the children didn’t know when it’s too late. This ‘deep moderation’ approach should also avoid talking judgementally rather than descriptively about learning, as so often happened with levels. Remember those times someone brought ‘their level 3’ and you brought ‘your level 3’ and they were worlds apart? Well deep moderation on really sharing ‘what makes good’ will avoid this. It might take more time, but if this approach is stuck to teachers will build their science assessment skills over time. Schools must put the time into this. Cancel those staff meetings about stuff you don’t need and make time for moderating…and please not just English and Maths.
  • Finally, a nice data tracker can be made to go with these ladders by putting all the class names on one side and then use the year group and the ‘working towards’, ‘achieving’.. and I suppose ‘exceeding’…but I think I’m going to call it ‘deepening’!  The data entry on the sheet for a child might look like ACH 3 for achieving Year 3, or WW 3, if their working towards and DPN 3 if they’re a high flyer. At some point I’ll make one of these sheets perhaps. I expect you could also start to talk about expected progress too so that if a child starts Year 3 as ACH 2,  they should end Year 3 as ACH 3. But perhaps that should be left to English and Maths and we shouldn’t let that spoil science! We’ll see. The point is that the ladders show attainment and achievement ..or should I say they record it…the children will show it!
  • Have I forgotten anything….? Probably. I might add more to this blog another time!


Any questions or suggestions about these ladders, or my approach greatly appreciated and welcome.


21 thoughts on “Science Assessment Ladders

  1. Maureen Cooper

    Thank you for this email Beth. I am not a science teacher.( I am a retired person. Once I was a class teacher.) I love to read your posts. They express exactly what I want all teachers to experience in the classroom. We are given such a priviledge to work with learners and your posts reflect this. best wishes Maureen

    1. Thank you Maureen – kind words. My wish these days is that I could have more time to focus all my efforts on teaching. I suppose as a career moves forward this is the quandary facing many teachers! I find I have too many interruptions and distractions! I’d like to shut the classroom door and just teach! Perhaps I better be careful what I wish for though! Thanks.

  2. Thanks Beth. This is an excellent way to approach assessment of the new curriculum for science, which seizes the opportunities offered by a broader approach to enquiry and of course ‘no levels’, puts the focus on planning and developing a shared understanding of what mastery of different aspects of the POS might look like, avoids unnessary reocrd keeping and reminds everyone strongly that mideration is vital. I will share this widely. Thank you!

    1. Yes I hope so. I will also gladly send out Word copies to schools (which I have done quite a few time already) so that they can adapt them to suit their needs. What I’m continually saying to people is that this is a mastery curriculum which means going wider rather than further. Like this, I’m passionate teachers don’t use these science ladders as ‘tick lists for teaching’ and then think science is done when everything is ticked. I always say the national curriculum is a minimal entitlement from which teachers launch a rich child led curriculum with curiosity and discovery at the heart. Anyway, here’s hoping!

      1. I so agree. The important thing is to have a clear idea of the different ways that children may be able to express, represent and apply the ideas and skills outlined in the POS. And plan for these- inveitably this will leads to rich learning!

      2. Mary hutchings

        Many thanks for the resources that you have made available. I entirely agree with the idea that we should deepen understanding rather than teaching content from other KS. Activities should be low threshold, high ceiling, wide walls so that all can engage but the more able can develop their own ideas and follow their creative interests. I would be most grateful if you would send Word files for the trackers. I also agree that moderation is essential otherwise our assessments are not reliable or valid.

      3. Hey no problem. I’ve sent them to you. It’s a battle for a lot of science leaders to get a foot in the door with science assessment because of the focus on Maths and English, but if you can at least help teachers track and assess science as they teach then there isn’t this great big mess at the end of the year when schools need to submit teacher assessments for science. There is of course only one assessment framework for science which means children are either ‘on track’ or not. It’s worth looking at the Interim frameworks for science at KS2: and also KS1: These basically assess the main points of learning at the end of each Keys stage. I assume Year 2 and Year 6 teachers would use them with the ongoing school assessment and evidence in children’s learning to arrive at a ‘working at expected’ or not judgement. We should remember though that they are only interim – because the DfE aren’t sure it’ll all work!


      4. Mary hutchings

        Have seen these – thank heavens they are interim, requirement to pass all parts means that many students can’t achieve their best fit result.

        Good to chat.


  3. Catharine Forster

    Dear Beth, thank you for these, really interesting. You blog was recommended by a consultant who said that you had completed planning for other areas of the curriculum also. Are you able to share these or email these?

    1. Hi there. It depends on what you mean by planning? I’m also updating the science ladders so I can send you those soon. I always share everything and in Word to so people can adapt it. Take care

      1. Catharine Forster

        Hi Beth,

        Thank you for your reply. I was wondering whether other curriculum areas had looked at the model of learning ladders and how they had found it. Although it has been a large amount of work, one of the most interesting aspects of moving to a system of assessment without levels is considering how different curriculum areas approach this. We are a secondary school and each curriculum area had been asked to consider how they would approach assessment without levels following a period of research in other schools. Although we are hoping for some consistency to support students and parents we have found that different curriculum areas use different approaches and I wondered how you had found this as a primary teacher delivering different curriculum areas.
        Thank you again for some thought provoking ideas which I have shared with others in school.

  4. Mabelruns

    Hi Beth, am revisiting your assessment ladders as I come to the end of my PSQM and am beginning to appreciate the enormity of what you have put together here. Despite our school using Target Tracker with its six sub- divisions- “judgemental rather than descriptive.” , our school has found using the ladders in children’s books far more useful on a day to day basis. Thanks again for these!

    1. Great! I know all about Target tracker, too many divisions for me, but good schools will make that work. I still think we need to think about what is the ‘working towards’ ‘expected’ and ‘exceeding’ for science. For me, it should come down to the working scientifically across the five types of investigations and how solid they are there and then how far a child is then working scientifically like that in the next phase if they are considered ‘exceeding’. It shouldn’t be about how much ‘stuff’ they know, but about how skilful they are as a scientist!

  5. carolyn

    Hi, Beth, I am a yr 3 teacher who enjoys teaching science and feel slightly flummoxed about how much assessment and so on is wanted and so litle guidance is found. Thank you for this. I feel I am going in the right direction.
    Regards, Carolyn

    1. Hey you’re welcome! I will eventually refine these, but at least they connect teachers to the new primary science curriculum and are a simple way for a Science Leaders to monitor coverage. The best way for primary science is to keep it simple and focus on maintaining curiosity, discussion and debate with the kids. Science has to be fun and marvellous at primary school – not about learning large amounts of facts!

  6. Pauline Wood

    Thanks for this Beth. It is so helpful when someone posts something like this. I found your comments on how you might use this especially helpful. I have been using one a little like this but as yet I have used it as a whole class document rather than an individual one. I have use the emerging, expected and exceeding headings and written the children’s initials in if they are emerging or exceeding. If they are expected then I have left their names off. At the end of the year all I have to do then is to look to see which child’s name appears on the emerging or exceeding and make an overall level from that. I might change the way I do it next year, its just been a bit of an experiment. Thanks again. Pauline Wood

  7. Marilyn

    Hi Beth
    These phase sheets look really useful. Is this what your school is using now and is it just a tick that you put in the column to assess achievement? Would it be possible to get these as a word document?
    Many thanks

  8. Anna Rugsataya

    Hi Beth, I just Googled ‘Science Assessment’ and found your amazing blog, full of so much information and all really useful! Thank you. Just what I was looking for and need! Would it be possible to have the assessments in Word format please?
    Many thanks

      1. Simone Anderson

        Hi Beth, Thank you so much for uploading these assessment grid. I really do appreciate it!
        Thanks a million!

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