Creating a shared definition of mastery…or some early thoughts about the draft performance descriptors

I smiled on reading some of the principles explicitly articulated in the rationale for the draft performance descriptors; “setting high standards” is all about being aspirational and I’m a big fan of using a “range of evidence” to inform summative assessment judgements.  I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth and quality of the draft performance descriptors. I basked in a particularly warm glow at “reading for pleasure” being top of the bullet-points at every level, oops, sorry, I mean step/stage/phase.


There are some things I’m not sure about. Questions I need to ponder. Here’s one of them. Whilst I applaud the notion that achievement beyong age-related expectations should be about exploring “the curriculum in greater depth…building on the breadth of their knowledge and skills within that key stage” rather than simply moving onto the next chunk of content from the year/key stage beyond, I’m not sure about calling this “Mastery.”


Did you watch Dr Who on Saturday? The Master has returned, except it’s not the Master, it’s the Mistress, but they are the same character. How do we know? Because we recognise the traits, we know the history and the context; we have a shared understanding of who the Master is.  My worry is that many schools are exploring their thinking around periodic assessment within key stages right now; researching, sharing ideas and experimenting with new approaches – many of which are using the term “mastery” and it doesn’t always mean the same thing. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on out there around “mastery” and in several cases, the term is being used to signify that learners have met age-related expectations by mastering the skills and knowledge set out in the National Curriculum, rather than exceeded them. I’ve learned how to tie my laces. I can do it independently. I’ve mastered it. I’m learning how to blog. I can do it independently. I certainly haven’t mastered it.


It’s good that the first consultation question asks us about the suitability of current names for the  Performance Descriptors. It’s important that we agree on some terms that feel right and for which we can create a shared understanding because we need to be clear about what we mean. Otherwise we could be back to levels again. Just a thought.


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