Guest Post: ‘All about that baseline’ – a fresh look at purposeful testing for students.

This is a guest post from Jenny Beck, a Head of PE of a girls school in London, sharing her thinking and approach to baseline assessment within core Physical Education.

Why Baseline Data Test in PE?

Nothing can be assumed about the fundamental motor skills of pupils entering secondary school. My own experience has revealed a wide range of ability levels, rather than any kind of common mastery in what might be thought of as the essentials.

Student voice surveys from schools that I have worked in reveal that pupils have widely different experiences of PE in primary school. This varies from “we did a lot of extra English/Maths work in preparation for SATS exams instead of doing PE lessons” to “we just played lots of games.” Furthermore, I have found Key Stage 2 data about PE ability levels to be often skewed, inaccurate or missing entirely. With this in mind, it has become increasingly important for secondary PE departments to decipher where students are when they enter the school – and then ascertain how much progress they are making. With Ofsted gearing towards seeing ‘progress over time’, and with FFT data (predominantly based on academic ability) being used to determine pupils’ target levels/grades, it has become increasingly difficult to prove that certain pupils have made substantial progress without having some kind of starting point (results based) to use as ammunition.

Previous Experiences of Baseline Data Testing:

Over the past couple of years, many PE departments have been working tirelessly to discover what kind of baseline data testing could be used to yield the most worthwhile results. At a previous school, just outside London, we completed Baseline Data testing whereby all year 7 pupils went through rigorous testing for the first two weeks of their PE lessons. They completed the following programme:

  • 6-minute Cooper Run (score was multiplied by 2)
  • A dance lesson in which they learned a short sequence and were then asked to choreograph their own movement material using choreographic devices to add interest to the piece
  • A 30m sprint test, hand wall toss test, sit up bleep test and a sit and reach test
  • They were then observed in a Benchball game (girls) or football game (boys) after learning some basic skills

This allowed PE staff to appropriately set (upper and lower) year 7 students and to create some normative data to use in subsequent years. While we made some mistakes, and needed to swap a few students around during the year, in the main, the majority of pupils were ‘pegged’ in a set where they could be appropriately challenged. So despite the process needing some tweaking to fit with pupil’s ability levels and fill the gaps in our knowledge of the students as PE staff, in general, we felt the tests used allowed us to get a better picture of what we were working with. That, in turn, enabled us to tailor-make the curriculum to fit pupils’ strengths and limitations.

I joined a new school (Stratford, East London) as a new Head of Department whereby they had set up a system in which they asked students to complete:

  • A full 12 minute Cooper Run/cross country run
  • A gymnastics routine (student composition)
  • An introductory dance lesson
  • A hi-5 based netball game

In the year that I joined, results were not recorded centrally, but were only for the individual teacher to use in order to work out their ‘top, middle and bottom’ students for purposes of differentiation.

Student Voice:

However, the students (all girls) at my current school are very different to those I encountered in my previous role and this spurred me on to rethink how we might tackle reworking baseline data testing. Over the course of the year, I discovered (from student voice surveys and questionnaires completed by sports captains) that:

  1. A large proportion of the girls had low confidence levels in PE, compared to other subjects
  2. Many pupils were unsure why they were being tested in PE lessons – they saw it as a confrontational environment where only ‘elite performers’ were given a chance to succeed
  3. Many girls experienced a huge step up from primary to secondary school PE lessons – something they felt wasn’t being recognised or addressed.

I wanted to retain the baseline data testing process at the beginning of the year so that informed decisions could be made about the curriculum map/design. However, in light of what I learned, I realised the system needed revitalising so that a robust, purposeful, less confrontational testing process could be created – with pupils at its heart. We needed a testing system that was completed with all year groups, not just year 7s – as the same principles apply to all year groups.

I have often felt that many PE Departments fitness test pupils for the sake of it, even if some of the results do not inform future PE lessons.

Baseline Data Testing – a new vision:

With this in mind, I had no interest at all in putting pupils under the spotlight as soon as they walked through our sports hall doors. Many had already indicated that the original baseline data testing process made them feel more apprehensive about PE introductory lessons than any other subject. As a result, I have evaluated how to overcome issues surrounding confidence levels, while retaining some of the tests that help PE staff draw meaningful information about ability levels.

I wanted to include Baseline data testing for pupils in all year groups that could also be adapted for KS4 pupils. I knew that in order for the data collated to be valid, tests would have to be completed by all pupils, be measureable and repeatable. I also realised that, while they were being assessed, students would need to be ‘distracted’ from the reality of testing. I developed the process outlined below:

Lesson 1: Cooper Run Obstacle Course

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The lesson is themed as ‘The Maze Runner.’ Footage from the film can be used for inspiration/to set the scene – getting around the course as quickly as possible.


The course begins in 1 of 2 places (pupils can begin at either one of the starting points). Pupils jump over 2 boxes, run, dive/roll under a large badminton net, run along benches and then begin an identical process on the other side of the sports hall. One full lap, or circuit, is counted after both halves have been completed. An alternative course for SEN/really low ability pupils around the outside of this can be erected.

The aim for the pupils is to get round as many laps as possible in 6 minutes. PE staff saw pupils putting weight on hands, their rolling ability, student’s mental capacity as well as CV/muscular endurance. They perform this in pairs – 1 runs whilst the other counts laps, encourages and documents the final result (they then swap roles).

Lesson 2: Fundamental Motor Skills circuit.

This is where students were placed in threes (1 x performer, 1 x coach and 1 video recorder). They followed the Fundamental Movement skill competence tests set out by Liverpool John Moore’s University (taken from ‘Drowning in the Shallows’ blog). Fundamental movement skill competence among 10-11 year old children: Year 2 PEPASS Physical Activity Project. We felt that this was extremely important to include, as it tested pupils in how well they could perform the Fundamental motor skills (physical literacy), which encapsulates every single sport that we cover on our PE curriculum.

Pupils were asked to get together with fellow students they trusted and felt comfortable working alongside. They had approximately 45 minutes to make it around 5 stations (throwing, jumping, sprinting, catching and hopping). We removed the kicking station as we had run out of space. We told them that the faster they went, the more opportunities that they would have to attempt to improve their scores (maximum of 3 attempts per person).

Lesson 3: Gymnastics Routine.

Students were asked to create a short sequence that included six set movements (jump, roll, balance, shape, travel and leap), which increased in difficulty depending on their year group. Each set movement was differentiated (easy, medium and hard version of the skill) and labelled either as a bronze, silver or gold movement. To extend the pupils that were particularly accomplished in gymnastics, we added in a ‘freestyle’ element (maximum of 3 added movements) that allowed them space to showcase their ability further.

We used cue cards to make sure students remembered what had to be included in a short sequence of movements. We taught each individual movement to the pupils before asking them to fluidly join them together into a routine.

Lesson 4: The Hunger Games

This lesson involved us tipping a substantial amount of PE equipment into the centre of the sports hall and placing benches splayed from the centre of the room to create a clock-like formation. We showed students selected, brief footage of the ‘Cornucopia’ section of the Hunger Games (no violence was shown). Pupils were put into groups of six or eight and asked to pre-plan the equipment that they thought that they would need in order to create an original and new game. We then put one minute on the clock and one representative was allowed to travel to the centre of the room to begin ferrying the items they needed. This process was heavily monitored by PE staff to make sure arguments did not break out and students were limited to five different items (i.e. 10 bibs was fine as it was still classified as one item). After this minute was up, students were not allowed to go back to the centre of the room or swap any unwanted items.

The students were then given 10 minutes to create a team game using their carefully selected equipment in their teams.



We gave them four key words that we were expecting to see by the end of the lesson. They were attempting to achieve ‘ACME’ (being the best/achieving the highest point or most successful) – this stands for:

A – AIM…the game has a clear purpose

C – CHALLENGING…the game appropriately caters for all

M – MEMORABLE…not too easy, not too hard so that others remember it (over others)

E – ENJOYABLE…it has to be appealing/fun for anyone participating


Students were assessed on their resilience, teamwork and co-operative skills as well as their final ‘product’. In the future, we fully plan on videoing students using Easy Assessment Pro (we have a PE technician that can assist with this process) for further evidence and each lesson will begin with ‘Plickers’ based questions to check theoretical knowledge. I have considered giving students a group/individual homework project to go alongside this task, with prizes for the best pieces to further engage them in PE from the start, although this will need further thought.

Assessment and Recording of Data:

As this is the first year that we have trialled this new system, we have developed subjective ways of assessing pupils to run in parallel until we have gained enough results to create our own normative data. We therefore ran a system where pupils were either awarded (in secret) with a 1* (highest), 1, 2, 3 or 3- (lowest) score. We were concerned about the subjective nature of lessons 3 and 4 – so agreed a common way of marking students and then assessed pupils in pairs. From this assessment procedure, pupils were given an average score and placed into banded groupings.

The results that we gathered were put into Excel Spreadsheets, as SIMS is currently being streamlined at the school. These results are stored and will be referred to throughout the year. The Year 7s remain in mixed sets but this data has informed our sets for our Years 8 and 9. We have one ‘top set’ and three ‘sideways’ sets who are ‘mixed ability.’ We have called the top set ‘aspire and achieve’ in line with the whole school policy and the three sideways sets are called ‘In Pursuit’, with their changing room name added to differentiate. The use of numbers, letters or other identifiers is purposely avoided so that pupils understand no group is better or worse than another.


We have fully measured out the lessons so that they can be identically recreated next year (especially lessons 1 and 2). We have also completed full lesson plans for future teachers if the baseline data testing needs repeating without current staff in the coming years – or if anyone forgets.

All in all, I believe this way of baseline data testing has benefited both pupils and teachers. We have discovered relevant information about pupils that was missing in previous years. A sample group of pupils has said they have not felt self conscious or apprehensive in any of the baseline data testing lessons and that each one has felt that they can succeed. We often found that lower ability students particularly stood out in the hunger games lesson, as they were able to instruct/lead rather than demonstrate.

We feel this process could become even more useful when normative data is in place for lessons 1 and 2: students will have particular success criteria to aim for. Alongside this, we also wanted to see how much progress pupils were making year on year. We felt as though this was vital data to execute, store and use in future OFSTED visits for the ‘progress over time’ element of their inspection of the school. Tying the results together with the new assessment structure of the school (1-9 GCSE scoring system) is going to be our department’s new challenge.

I am particularly aware that schools vary and, as such, no process can be a one-size-fits-all. However, for us, this seems to be a process that we can commit to, adapt, improve and learn from as it appears to address the majority of concerns that pupils had previously. At the same time, it collates vital results and information that PE staff need if they are to ascertain pupils’ ability as they enter school and how they make progress from year to year.

As ever, I believe that every system benefits from being constructively assessed by those using it and those observing it. And on that basis, I would be enormously grateful for any comments and thoughts regarding this, or any alternative, baseline data testing processes.

Jenny would appreciate any feedback with regards to her approach to baseline assessment, either as comments on this blog post or via twitter @JennyBeck85


3 thoughts on “Guest Post: ‘All about that baseline’ – a fresh look at purposeful testing for students.

  1. Thanks for sharing Jenny. Collecting baseline data is not part of our standard practice but have been working on developing a greater range of strategies for differentiation. Interesting that you have a top band class – school wide philosophy?


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