Last reviewed on 8 September 2021
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 4798

Use our questions to help you analyse pupil progress and confidently hold your school leaders to account.

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? 

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 might refer to the school-led tutoring grant for 2021/22 to provide tutoring interventions to support disadvantaged pupils.

They should also explain how they're using any of the coronavirus catch-up premium they're carrying forward from the last academic year 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 2021 in line with what you expected?

Ask this if your school had pupils who were awarded grades in the summer of 2021 (e.g. for GCSEs and A-levels). This would have been via teacher assessment, which replaced exams.

Your school leaders should be able to explain whether the results were what they expected.

If your school received extra support from the exam board (e.g. it received a virtual visit), your 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 2020/21.

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 – the amount of time some pupils spend outside of school will likely be a barrier to progress
  • Mental health and wellbeing – many pupils may be struggling to get back into school life

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 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.

Do we need to make sure 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.