Key stage 3 assessment

A Parental Guide to assessment in KS3

This year we are making some changes to the way we assess and report pupil achievement at key stage 3. The main change is that we are introducing a simplified version of the pathways system which we have used for the past three years to report pupil progress in years 7 – 9. Whilst, in general, the pathways system was well received and seen as a positive move away from the old system of national curriculum levels, we recognise it wasn’t perfect. We have listened carefully to feedback from teachers, parents and pupils and we hope the new and simplified ‘attainment bands’ system will provide greater clarity regarding the progress of your child across key stage 3.

How do we assess pupils?

Essentially we assess the learning of pupils in two ways, which act as two separate layers of assessment. These are as follows

Layer 1: Formative on-going, ungraded and focused on smaller chunks of the curriculum.

Layer 2: Summative – roughly 2-3 times per year. Knowledge included will build cumulatively through the year. For most subjects this takes the form of test.

Formative assessment is what we want teachers to focus on most. This is because research evidence tells us that this has the greatest impact on learning. It does not involve the grading of work but instead the teacher identifying pupils’ strengths and weaknesses and then adapting their teaching to help pupils improve.

Some examples of formative assessment are:

  • Quizzes
  • Multi-choice questions
  • Reading or observing pupil work (either during or after a lesson)
  • Live marking (marking pupils’ work as they are completing it)
  • Breaking a complex task down into several smaller parts and assessing one part at a time.
  • Spelling and vocabulary tests
  • Filling in blank knowledge organisers
  • Written plans
  • Questioning

Summative assessments will usually take place two or three times per year and these may take the form of a test, an assessed piece of writing or practical work as appropriate to the subject.

How do we judge the starting points of pupils?

We do not assign target grades to pupils at key stage 3 as we do not want to put any limits on their aspirations. We want to encourage the mind-set where all pupils strive for excellence and a culture of ‘I can’t do yet’ rather than ‘I can’t do.’ 

We do however use their achievement scores at key stage 2 to assign each pupil a starting point. For subjects where key stage 2 data may be less useful in identifying prior skills, such as Music, Art, Drama and Physical Education, teachers will carry out baseline assessments during the autumn term of Year 7 and assign starting points based on this information. It must be stressed that this process is only a start point. Whilst overall school progress is measured externally in relation to the progress pupils make from their key stage 2 test outcomes, and we recognise why this is the case, we also recognise that key stage 2 tests only measure attainment at one snapshot in time. As such they don’t always give a true reflection of a child’s future potential. Key stage test scores provide some very useful information about what a child can and can’t do at that moment in time, but we don’t see them as a proxy for IQ. For this reason, we don’t assign rigid ‘flight paths’ for pupil progress; to do so would seem to be entrenching pre-existing inequalities in attainment measured at that one point in time. We also recognise that pupil progress isn’t linear and rarely follows predictable trajectories.

Attainment bands

Based on their identified start points, pupils on entry will be placed into one of three attainment bands for each subject. These attainment bands are not fixed and where a pupil is working consistently at the level above, their band should be changed. No pupil can be moved down bands.

We firmly believe that if teachers teach good lessons and pupils work hard, both in and out of school, this will lead to positive outcomes. We continuously monitor the quality of teaching and learning across the school in order to ensure all pupils have access to great learning. We also place a huge emphasis on monitoring and rewarding pupil effort in all areas of the curriculum. If pupils try hard in every aspect of their work, success invariably comes their way. We strive to create a culture in school where excellence is the norm; a school where working hard is something to be celebrated by everybody.The process of determining and assigning attainment bands helps us to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each pupil in order to enable them to be taught in the most effective way and to make maximum progress. It will also give us a point from which to internally track pupil progress. Pupils are continuously assessed throughout years 7 – 9 in order to ensure they have gained the required knowledge and skills, at that point in time, in order for them to achieve their expected GCSE outcomes. If pupils consistently demonstrate that they are working at a level above their initial attainment band, they will be moved into the next band. Where pupils are performing below expectations, support will be put in place to help pupils to get back on track; this will often involve contacting parents to discuss the concerns identified. In line with our philosophy of high aspirations for all, the expectation is that all pupils make progress in line with the very best schools nationally.

Reporting to Parents

Three times a year parents will receive an update on their child’s progress in school. Parents will receive a Progress Report, a Parents Evening and there will be one Full Report at the end of the school year. They will include:

  • Attainment band for each subject.
  • A judgement as to whether or not a child is on track to achieve predicted future outcomes.
  • A judgement as to whether current effort levels are acceptable.
  • Where effort is judged to be below expectations, further details will be provided as to why this is the case e.g. homework, behaviour in class.
  • An indication of where your child’s current effort levels place them in relation to their peers.
  • The yearly full report will also include a comment from the form tutor
Report Example

Average effort grade band- Above averageAverage effort grade- 1.7

Average effort grade bandings

For example- 

If a child’s effort grade band is-

  • ‘well above average’ they are in the top 10% of the year group.
  • ‘above average’ they are in the top 30% of the year group.
  • ‘average’ they are in the middle 40% of the year group.

Effort grade descriptors

  • 1
  • demonstrates an outstanding work ethic and a passion to learn independently
  • enthusiastically embraces all opportunities for learning
  • is extremely well-organised and actively follows instructions
  • behaves exceptionally well
  • always completes homework on time and to a high standard
  • studies independently and seizes opportunities to improve
  • is hardworking, conscientious and determined
  • makes positive contributions and acts upon advice
  • is consistently ready to learn and follows instructions
  • behaves consistently well
  • completes homework on time and to an expected standard
  • acts on opportunities to improve
  • needs to work harder and focus more in lessons
  • does not always persevere and produces work that is inconsistent in quality
  • can be unprepared for learning and does not always follow instructions and/or sometimes behaves in a disruptive manner
  • completes homework but may have missed deadlines
  • sometimes produces work that lacks thought or care
  • lacks focus and needs frequent monitoring
  • gives up too easily and produces work that lacks thought or care
  • shows little interest in improving standards
  • often arrives unprepared for lessons
  • is uncooperative and disrupts learning
  • rarely completes homework
  • produces work of poor quality






1 – Outstanding

2 – Good

3 – Requires improvement

4 – Serious cause for concern

Frequently asked questions

Why can’t my child be given a GCSE target at Key Stage 3?

Whilst we can use data to look at how pupils with particular starting points usually perform at GCSE, we don’t want to use this to set them targets. The main reason is that we don’t want to put a ceiling on their expectations of themselves – we want all students to believe that with the right effort, we can all get that little bit better. Just because most students with a particular key stage 2 starting point end up getting grade 5 at GCSE, that doesn’t mean that has to be the case for everybody.

What do each of the different attainment bands mean?

All attainment bands are initially assigned based on your child’s performance in their key stage 2 SATs. By comparing the progress pupils with the same key stage 2 scores have made in previous years, teachers can ensure they pitch their lessons at the correct level in order to make sure all pupils in their class make excellent progress. As a rough guide (and it is rough- see below) the expected GCSE outcomes for each attainment band are-

Whilst the attainment band, to some extent, determines the curriculum coverage at key stage 3, most of our teaching groups are mixed ability and as such all pupils will be taught higher level content. We teach to the top and provide support, where needed, in order to ensure all pupils have the best possible chances of achieving high grades.

Can my child move attainment bands?

Yes. If pupils consistently demonstrate that they are working at a level above their initial attainment band, they will be moved into the next band. Where pupils are performing below expectations, support will be put in place to help pupils to get back on track.

Why are the attainment bands broad? I want to know the exact GCSE grade my child is currently working at.

It is extremely difficult to predict GCSE grades during key stage 3 due to the amount of learning that has to take place before pupils eventually sit their exams at the end of year 11. As a result, we have designed a key stage 3 assessment system that deliberately avoids connecting our curriculum objectives too closely to GCSE grades. We feel to do so would be misleading and may lead to unnecessary anxiety for our students. We want our students to focus on getting better in every subject during key stage 3 rather than their eventual GCSE grades. The firm message we want to give at key stage 3 is ‘with the right amount of effort, anything is possible.’

Is there any link between the key stage 3 curriculum and GCSE?

We have recently rewritten our entire key stage 3 curriculum in order to raise the level of challenge for all pupils. As part of our curriculum planning, all subjects have identified the core knowledge and skills that pupils will need to gain at key points if they are to achieve in line with their attainment band at GCSE. As previously stated we aim high and, with the right amount of effort and commitment, we believe all pupils can make great progress during their time in school.

How is the new system linked to the old pathways?

The overall system is very similar to the old pathways model. The key difference is that it has been written for a completely new key stage 3 curriculum and we have tried to simplify our reporting as much as possible to make it clearer for parents to understand.

What does the effort grade column mean on a school report?

For us, this is the most important column on the report. If pupils try their hardest at all times, we are confident they will make excellent progress in school. Effort grades are ranked 1-4 with 1 being the highest grade. The key criteria for achieving each effort grade are given on the report. Where a child has an effort grade 3 or below, teachers will identify key cause(s) for concern. We also provide some context to the effort scores by showing parents where their child’s average effort score places them in relation to the rest of the year group.

What does the on track column mean on a school report?

Throughout the year, teachers consistently monitor the progress of all pupils against the assessment criteria for each attainment band. Pupil progress varies throughout the year and from topic to topic and so the ‘on track’ column is a best fit of all the current assessment information. If a child is reported as being ‘on track’, all the assessment information points towards them making excellent progress. When a child is identified as not being on track, they will receive specific support and intervention from teachers to help them get back on track. It may be that a child is making poor progress as a result of their effort levels in school. As such the on track column should always be read in conjunction with the effort column grade.

Who do I speak to if I have any further questions?

If you have any queries/questions about your child’s progress within a specific subject, please contact their subject teacher in the first instance. Where you have more general concerns i.e. across three or more subjects, please contact your child’s form tutor.