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Last reviewed on 31 July 2020
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Use our questions to help you analyse pupil progress – they take into account the possible impact of coronavirus on pupil learning.

Coronavirus: hold off asking pupil progress questions until it's business as usual

Normally in the autumn term you'd launch straight into asking questions about pupil progress during your governor visits and meetings. While this is still important, due to coronavirus it's best you hold fire right now.

This is because your school will be running without up-to-date pupil progress or end-of-key-stage data. Your school will still have internal data, but you'll need to give time for pupils to settle back in before your school can establish gaps in their learning.

Your senior leaders will let you know when the school is back in the swing of things and what data you can use to monitor – after that, you can start to ask questions. For the first term especially, it's likely you'll be focusing on catch-up. Ask the questions in this article of senior leaders when you’re monitoring pupil progress over the coming year – you'll be able to tell when's best to ask each question.

Find out how pupil progress and performance data will be impacted by coronavirus in the first section of our article.

Questions to ask

How are we supporting the closing of learning gaps between pupils? Are all of our pupils getting the support they need to fulfil their potential? How are you going to use the catch-up premium to support this?

Focus on closing learning gaps as the first stepping stone when asking about pupil progress in the autumn term.

Leaders should be able to explain what initiatives/strategies they have or are planning to have in place to support pupils.

They should also explain how they're going to use the coronavirus catch-up premium to support their plans, and how they decided what to spend the funding on.

You need to make sure the funding is:

  • Spent in line with your school's catch-up priorities
  • Used transparently, so that parents understand how your school is using it

Was pupil progress at the end of summer 2020 in line with what you expected?

Ask this if your school had pupils who were awarded grades in the summer of 2020 (e.g. for GCSEs and A-levels).

Leaders should be able to explain whether the standardised grades awarded by exam boards were what they expected.

These grades are unlikely to vary widely from:

  • Previous cohorts
  • The centre assessed grades your school originally awarded before the exam board standardised them

If the grades vary significantly, senior leaders should be able to explain the reason for this.

Remember, senior leaders won’t be able to give any national comparisons as these aren't being published for 2020.

How is progress among pupil groups? What does good progress look like in the school? Are some individuals or groups making better progress than others?

Senior leaders should refer to evidence from mostly internal data. This doesn’t have to be from mock tests or baselining – it can also be from classwork and projects.

Data could be broken down for different subjects and key groups such as:

  • Pupils with special educational needs
  • Pupils with English as an additional language
  • Pupils eligible for the pupil premium/disadvantaged pupils
  • More able/gifted and talented pupils

Are there any barriers to pupil progress? If so, what are we doing about these?

Senior leaders may refer to barriers such as:

  • Attendance – pupils and parents may be anxious about returning to school. While attendance is mandatory from autumn, the amount of time pupils would’ve spent outside of school will likely remain a barrier to progress
  • Mental health and wellbeing – many pupils may be struggling to get back into school life. Bear in mind that it may take time for pupils to receive help and be able to manage any issues they have

Equally, senior leaders should point to what the school is doing about any barriers. Responses could be:

  • School counselling interventions
  • Mental health focused relationships and sex education (RSE) lessons
  • Academic interventions
  • Relevant targets highlighted in the school improvement plan
  • CPD opportunities for staff to address any areas for improvement

Can we explain patterns/trends in pupil progress? For example, can we explain why progress is better in maths than in reading?

Responses will be specific to your school’s context.

Senior leaders should analyse trends and may draw upon historic data to help explain the reasons for trends/patterns.

Senior leaders should explain how they’re addressing any negative trends in pupil progress.

How do staff use internal pupil progress data to target improvements?

This question focuses on internal data for this year, since external data is missing or absent.

Senior leaders should explain how staff record data on pupil progress, and how it informs decisions such as:

  • Which pupils need additional support
  • Which pupils work in which groups during a lesson (this is also called differentiated learning – making sure lower-ability and higher-ability pupils are given different types of work so they can each make progress)

Senior leaders should provide you with enough detail so you feel confident that the data is accurate. 

How often do staff report to parents on pupil progress and in what format?

The school should be meeting statutory requirements by sending an annual written report to parents on their child’s attainment and progress.

You may be shown an example of a report.

Note: due to coronavirus, the reports at the end of the 2019-20 academic year don't need to include:

  • Attendance data
  • The outcomes of Key Stage(KS) 1 and KS2 tests or teacher assessments, due to exam cancellations

Bear in mind that reports may not be able to cover the period of partial school closure, but that schools can provide additional information – for example, where teachers reviewed work completed at home.

Do we need to ensure professional development and training is in place so teachers have the necessary skills to help pupils meet their targets?

If the answer is yes, seek assurance that CPD and training is being planned and that senior leaders will monitor the impact.

If the response is no, seek assurance that staff have the support and resources to help pupils to meet their targets.

Downloadable version

We've put the above questions and example answers into a downloadable document which you can print off if you prefer – it includes space for you to take notes. 


Jane Owens is a chair of governors at primary, secondary and special schools, and chairs a multi academy trust board. She is a national leader of governance and conducts external reviews of governance across all sectors.

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