2016 Teacher Assessment Performance Descriptors for Mathematics and Science

After taking a look at the new performance descriptors for reading and writing, we now turn our attention to mathematics and science.


  • At KS1 there are three performance descriptors- ‘working towards the national standard’, ‘working at the national standard’, and ‘working at a greater depth within the national standard’. At KS2, there is just one- ‘working at the national standard’. Achievement above or below this level would be reflected in a child’s scaled score from the Y6 mathematics test.

  • Perhaps the most significant change from the previous system of NC levels is that these performance descriptors are not best fit. As the document says, ‘to demonstrate that pupils have met the standard, teachers will need to have evidence that a pupil demonstrates consistent attainment of all the statements within the standard.’
  • The descriptors at KS1 and KS2 closely match the content of the 2014 National Curriculum. That means an emphasis on mental calculations and standard written methods for all four operations at KS2.
  • At KS1, ‘working at the national standard’ allows for the use of ‘concrete apparatus’ (number lines, cubes, Numicon, Cuisenaire rods) to support number work. This is likely to be a relief to teachers, as these are not allowed to support children in the KS1 national test this year.
  • At KS1, children are expected to know multiplication and division facts for the 2, 5, and 10 times tables. They also need to be able to recognise addition and subtraction as the inverse of one another, using this to check answers.


  • At KS1 and KS2, there is just one performance descriptor- ‘working at the national standard’. Children will either meet it or not.
  • The performance descriptors are closely matched to the 2014 National Curriculum although, as the say, they ‘focus on key aspects for assessment’. In reality, the key areas of ‘working scientifically’ and the considerable content of the 2014 National Curriculum are represented here.
  • There are no national tests for science at either key stage and so how teachers assess children’s scientific knowledge and skills is up to them, ‘drawing on a broad range of evidence from across the curriculum for each pupil.’
  • As with the other curriculum areas detailed above, the performance descriptors are not designed to be applied to single pieces of work- they are an overall picture of where children are at the end of a key stage.

Finally, thinking about all of the subjects, it’s important to remember that if you’ve spent time building an assessment system that works for your school and your pupils ready for life after levels, you don’t need to change it because of the new performance descriptors. As the introduction notes say:

This statutory interim framework is to be used only to make a teacher assessment judgement at the end of the key stage following the completion of the curriculum. It is not intended to be used to track progress throughout the key stage.

These are performance descriptors developed for teacher assessment at the end of a key stage, not a replacement for the old national curriculum levels.

James Clements is a member of the Advisory Board for Oxford Owl, Oxford Primary’s online school improvement service. He has worked as a teacher and senior leader in an outstanding inner city primary school, as a Local Authority Lead Teacher, and was consulted on the New National Curriculum for English. James is now an English adviser and the creative director of Shakespeare and More, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes effective English teaching.
Follow James on Twitter @James_ShMore


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