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National Curriculum

Assessment in science


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 science

In science at key stages 1 and 2, the level descriptions indicate the progression in the knowledge, skills and understanding set out in the four attainment targets:

  1. scientific enquiry

  2. life processes and living things

  3. materials and their properties

  4. physical processes.

Providing progression opportunities

To ensure pupils progress in science through key stages 1 and 2, teaching should provide opportunities for pupils to progress:

  • from using everyday language to increasingly precise use of technical and scientific vocabulary, notation and symbols

  • from personal scientific knowledge in a few areas to understanding in a wider range of areas and of links between these areas

  • from describing events and phenomena to explaining events and phenomena

  • from explaining phenomena in terms of their own ideas to explaining phenomena in terms of accepted ideas or models

  • from participating in practical scientific activities to building increasingly abstract models of real situations

  • from unstructured exploration to more systematic investigation of a question

  • from using simple drawings, diagrams and charts to represent and communicate scientific information to using more conventional diagrams and graphs.

Scientific enquiry

This attainment target reflects pupils' progress in:

  • understanding the connections between empirical questions, evidence and scientific explanations

  • planning investigative work using a range of approaches

  • obtaining and recording valid and reliable evidence

  • interpreting evidence, drawing conclusions and evaluating their own work

  • presenting and communicating findings using a range of appropriate scientific terminology.

Life processes and living things

This attainment target reflects pupils' progress in describing and explaining:

  • life processes in animals and plants

  • similarities and differences in living things

  • causes and variations in animals and plants

  • ways in which animals and plants are suited to the environment in which they live

  • ways in which animals and plants depend on each other

  • how relationships between living things affect populations of organisms.

Materials and their properties

This attainment target reflects pupils' progress in describing and explaining:

  • a range of materials and their properties

  • the nature of different materials

  • how simple mixtures can be separated

  • ways in which materials can be changed and patterns in these changes

  • how the properties of materials relate to the nature and organisation of the particles they contain.

Physical processes

This attainment target reflects pupils' progress in:

  • describing and explaining physical phenomena related to electricity, force and motion, light and sound and energy resources and energy transfer

  • relating understanding of physical phenomena to observations of the behaviour of bodies in the solar system

  • using abstract ideas about physical phenomena in explanations

  • recognising and using quantitative relationships between physical quantities.

About the attainment targets

The attainment targets in science 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 by charting broad progression in the subject, the level descriptions can also inform planning, teaching and assessment. Please note, the 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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