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National Curriculum

Assessment in English


Making a judgement

At the end of a key stage, teachers should judge which level description best fits the pupil's performance. Each description should be considered alongside descriptions for adjacent levels. When making a judgement at the end of a key stage, you may wish to note the following points.

Making your judgement

  • You will arrive at judgements by taking into account strengths and weaknesses in performance across a range of contexts and over a period of time, rather than focusing on a single piece of work.

  • A single piece of work will not cover all the expectations set out in a level description. It will probably provide partial evidence of attainment in one or two aspects of a level description. If you look at it alongside other pieces of work covering a range of contexts you will be able to make a judgement about which level best fits a pupil's overall performance.

Giving pupils opportunities to demonstrate attainment

  • Your pupils will need to use a range of forms of communication to show what they can do.

  • In planning units of work and classroom approaches, you will need to provide opportunities for pupils to display their achievements in different ways, and to work in a range of situations.


Although you will want to be able to explain why you have awarded particular levels to pupils at the end of the key stage, there is no requirement for judgements to be explained in a particular way or to be supported by detailed collections of evidence for each pupil. Decisions about collecting information, about its purpose and how it should be used are matters for teachers working within an agreed school policy.

Progression in English

In English there are three attainment targets that are organised under the language skills of speaking and listening, reading and writing. Activities will often cover two or more of these skills. Progression in each of these attainment targets is set out below.

Speaking and listening

In speaking and listening, progression is characterised by:

  • increasing confidence and competence in adapting talk, using standard English as appropriate

  • development in the ability to listen with understanding

  • increasing participation in discussions.

Confidence and competence in adapting talk, using standard English as appropriate

At levels 1 to 2 pupils answer questions briefly without elaboration, beginning to include a little detail. From level 3 pupils are increasingly able to adapt their vocabulary, structure and tone of voice to communicate effectively. From level 4 they are able to use spoken standard English, arising from their awareness of appropriate choices of language in formal situations.

Listening with understanding

From level 1 pupils show an ability to listen attentively to what is said. From level 3 they focus their questions and comments, and from level 4 respond to others' ideas.

Participation in discussions

At levels 1 to 3 pupils are able to take part in a conversation, often structured by questions and comments. As pupils become confident, at levels 4 to 5 they are able to manage their own turn-taking and interventions.

From level 3 a major aspect of discussion is the ability to listen to others, and from level 4 pupils make contributions that are relevant. From level 5 they take account of others' views, moving the discussion forward.


In reading, progression is characterised by:

  • ability to read increasingly demanding texts, using a repertoire of reading strategies

  • development in response to texts, including analysing and evaluating

  • reading for information.

Reading increasingly demanding texts, using a repertoire of reading strategies

At levels 1 to 3 a significant marker of progress is the increasing ability to read with independence, and to make sense of a text beyond decoding.

Pupils develop independence in their reading, characterised not just as reading without support, but also in terms of the appropriate selection of reading strategies.

Progression throughout the levels will also be seen in pupils' confidence in understanding texts that are more challenging in terms of length, complexity of language and sophistication of ideas.

Responding to texts, including analysing and evaluating

At levels 1 to 3, pupils' response to their range of reading is characterised at the level of personal preferences, such as simple likes or dislikes. At levels 4 to 5 pupils will be able to support these preferences by making reference to the texts read. At level 5 pupils develop the ability to identify, select and respond to key features of texts.

Reading for information

Reading for information is required in all key stages. Pupils progress from locating information for a specific purpose (at levels 3 to 4), to collecting and synthesising it for different purposes (at level 5).

From level 4 pupils develop and select appropriate reading strategies, for example skimming and scanning. The increasing level of difficulty and the range of types of text contribute to the challenge outlined in the higher levels.


In writing, progression is characterised by:

  • development of skills in writing

  • increasing control of different forms of written texts

  • development in the ability to adapt writing for meaning and effect.

Developing skills in writing

From level 1, pupils develop control over the physical processes of writing, and over the conventions of written language, including spelling and punctuation. From level 2 they develop knowledge of conventions, for example in the use of punctuation to demarcate words and sentences. From level 4 they mark divisions within sentences.

At level 1 pupils begin to understand spelling through letter strings and sound-symbol relationships. From levels 2 to 5 they build on this understanding and spell increasingly complex words.

Increasing control of different forms of written texts

Pupils' growing understanding of how texts are organised differently is seen in their ability to vary their vocabulary, sentence construction and overall shape of texts for a variety of purposes (from level 2).

As pupils progress through the levels they use a range of forms and styles competently and flexibly. At levels 1 to 2, pupils learn to use the main features of narrative and non-narrative writing. At levels 3 to 4 the range of forms used by pupils becomes more extensive and pupils grow in confidence. At level 5 pupils show control of a range of narrative techniques and are able to adopt the styles characteristic of formal or impersonal writing.

Ability to adapt writing for meaning and effect

At all levels, the impact of pupils' writing and its interest to the reader are significant. This is a continuing theme in the overall assessment of the quality of pupils' written work, and links with the opportunities to write for a range of audiences and purposes as set out in each programme of study. Pupils' ability to use and adapt their vocabulary, grammar and overall style relates to the degree of challenge in the task, its intended purpose and the implied readership.

About the attainment targets

The attainment targets in English set out the knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage. Attainment targets consist of eight level descriptions of increasing difficulty, plus a description of exceptional performance above level 8. Each level description describes the type and range of performance that pupils working at that level should characteristically demonstrate.

The level descriptions provide the basis for making judgements about pupils' performance at the end of a key stage. The majority of pupils are expected to work at:

  • levels 1-3 in key stage 1 and attain level 2 at the end of the key stage

  • levels 2-5 in key stage 2 and attain level 4 at the end of the key stage.

By indicating expectations at particular levels and progression in the subjects, the level descriptions can also inform planning, teaching and assessment. Please note, level descriptions are not designed to be used to 'level' individual pieces of work.

This content relates to the 1999 programmes of study and attainment targets.

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