Tracking progress over time: flight paths and matrices

Everyone should already be familiar with the KS2-4 Transition Matrices. A staple of RAISEonline, they were the first thing our HMI asked me for in our last Ofsted inspection and form the staple diet of inspectors judging the impact of a secondary school on progress in English and Maths.

Framework for KS2-4 Transition Matrices

Framework for KS2-4 Transition Matrices

And quite right too. It’s common for secondary teachers to bemoan the inaccuracy of KS2 levels, but like it or not, somehow those students got those levels in Year 6 and we need to add value during their time with us. Of course, the starting point (KS2 levels) and the end point (GCSE grades) are both in flux for the next few years, which renders the measurements somewhat uncertain (see my blog KS2, KS4, Level 6 and Progress 8 – who do we appreciate?), but the principle of measuring student performance on entry and exit to judge progress makes sense.

Over the past year we have been experimenting with progress flight paths which I found initially on Stephen Tierney‘s @LeadingLearner blog. We are now using transition matrices based on our own version of progress flight paths to track progress in each year group and identify students who are at risk of not progressing over time. In this post I will outline the methodology we use; I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments or via my “contact me” page.

But we don’t have National Curriculum levels any more…

No, that’s true – and we don’t use them. As outlined in my post Assessment in the new national curriculum: what we’re doing, we have adapted our assessment criteria at KS3 to reflect GCSE criteria. All our language in reporting to parents and policy statements now refers to “Chew Valley Levels” to clarify our position. This way, we preserve some continuity for students and parents who are used to the levels system, but we create a consistent ladder of knowledge and skills to assess from Year 7 to Year 11. As GCSE grades change to numbers, we may well consider adjusting to a numerical assessment system across the school too, but maintaining the principle of a five-year continuous assessment scheme in each subject.

The flight paths

The flight paths we are using, based on the @LeadingLearner model, are set up as follows:

  • Expected progress: one sub-level of progress in each year
  • Better than expected progress: one and a half sub-levels per year
  • Outstanding progress: two sub-levels per year
  • World class progress: more than two sub-levels per year
Progress flight paths tabulated

Progress flight paths tabulated

The flight paths do not presuppose that progress over time is linear; this was my initial misunderstanding of the model. Rather, they show the trajectory of progress over time within which students need to perform if they are reach or exceed the end of KS4 destinations outlined in RAISEonline. Creating marker points at the end of each year enables early identification of potential issues with progress. At Chew Valley we collect assessments three times in each academic year, all measured against the flight paths. At the first assessment point, only one short term into the year, a greater proportion of students might be lower on the flight paths, but over the course of the academic year teachers can focus their planning to ensure that those students who are at risk of falling behind have any issues addressed.

Creating transition matrices from the flight paths

Using SIMS tracking grids, we have created transition matrices for each year within the curriculum. These can be populated with student names at each assessment point, and generated for teaching groups, gender groups, pupil premium cohort, or any other field within the SIMS dataset. Simply put, students are plotted in the grid with the row representing their KS2 prior attainment level and the column representing their current performance assessment. We will be able to adapt the row and column headings as the assessment systems change.

Example tracking grid template in SIMS

Example tracking grid template in SIMS

Within the template, the fields are colour-coded to represent each of the flight paths:

  • White = below expected
  • Green = expected progress
  • Blue = better than expected
  • Pink = outstanding
  • Yellow = world class

Once populated, the matrices are distributed to curriculum and pastoral leaders and, critically, class teachers. They enable at-a-glance identification of progress issues on an individual, cohort, prior-attainment bracket or group scale.

Example of a populated tracking grid with student names anonymised. Note the tabs across the bottom for teaching groups and subgroups

Example of a populated Y8 tracking grid with student names anonymised. Note the tabs across the bottom for teaching groups and subgroups.

When I was a Head of English, this is the data I would have wanted my SLT to be providing me with. As with all data work in my leadership role, I am trying to adhere to the principles I outlined in my post The Narrative in the Numbers, and to make the data as useful as possible to enable teachers in the classroom to do their job even better. By clicking on my class tab along the bottom of the spreadsheet I will be able to see at-a-glance which students in my group are progressing well, and which less well; then I will be able to plan what I’m going to do about it over the next few terms.


Currently this method is only applied to English and Maths. We have experimented with using an average KS2 points score to create a generic baseline and applying it to other subjects, but it throws up too many anomalies to be reliable or useful (which poses some interesting questions about the proposed Progress 8 methodology). However, it would be possible to apply this model from a Year 7 baseline assessment in any subject – the tools are there.


16 thoughts on “Tracking progress over time: flight paths and matrices

  1. hi. I thought the minimum expected progress was 2 whole levels across ks3. Your tables call this ‘outstanding’ progress. My SLT would certainly not agree with your version of the tables. Love the use of SIMS.

    • These aren’t national curriculum levels. We’re using our own levels with GCSE grade equivalence to provide a linear scale. We’re only interested in progress KS2-4 and each year is a way marker on that journey – hence the flight paths. Your SLT may have a different view but this works for us in our context.

      • Interesting. It would be great to use such tables but our LEA and Ofsted would dismiss them as not in line with government targets. They look truer to me than is expected by government at the present time but they wouldn’t hold up in a narrative on data with Ofsted.

      • Even though the start and end points are in line with Ofsted criteria? Expected progress for level 5+ is B; level 4 is C; level 3 is D – this is exactly what our flight paths show. Of course we want more than just expected progress, hence three paths above the expected one. I think we could argue our case successfully with any LA or inspector!

  2. I’m thoroughly engrossed with this blog. We are also grappling with our expectations of our students moving along their personalised flightpaths. Is their trajectory at KS3 intrinsically linked to how ‘successful’ they are at KS4? Are there expected concave and convex flightpaths for students who start KS3 at a particular ‘level’ in particular subjects? Should these flightpaths be negotiated with curriculum leaders who understand the end points are fixed (min 3levels, striving 4levels+)? Which brings into play the topic of base line assessments for non core subjects…

    • Hi – thanks for your comment. Students can (and should) move up between paths as they progress, so no need for concave or convex (though I like the idea!) as they are not tied to one path. The paths are fixed but progress is absolutely not! I deal with the notion of baselines for non-core subjects in my post about next steps in assessment – in my view and experience these are necessary, especially with the expiry of levels.

  3. Thanks for this, it’s very useful. However, recent experience of Ofsted informs me that the days of 3 levels of progress as being acceptable are gone and we will be judged on those achieving 4 levels. It came as a surprise to us……

    • No surprise – 3 levels still matters but even at our last Ofsted (2011) we were grilled on those exceeding as well as making expected progress (or not!)

      However, the new guidance from Ofsted on inspection of assessment now that levels have gone is helpful, and there will be “turbulence” in these areas as KS2 tests change and GCSE grades adjust. I think Progress 8 will become a far more influential measure which has its positive and negative sides.

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  7. Sorry I’m so late joining the discussion. The matrices are all very sensible and I really like the at a glance coloured matrix to enable pastoral leaders etc. have a handle on individual pupils’ progress. The only matrix I would have an issue with is the ‘better than expected progress’ one for sub levels of b and c starting points. For example, of all 5b starters nationally in English, 69% should get A or A*. If the outstanding progress matrix became the better than expected, then that would be fine.

  8. I would be very interested to contact your Science department regarding their ‘Life after Levels’, as I am currently trying to implement a new tracking system within my own, and am finding that I have some resistance at SLT level. What you have written here is absolutely on point, and I would love some guidance with how to apply it to the Science faculty.

    • Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately this blog was written two years ago and I no longer work at Chew Valley. However, if you contact the school (there is an email address on their website) with your request I’m sure they’ll be happy to help!

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