What are Learning and Thinking Skills?

The new National Curriculum does not specify levels of attainment. Instead pupils and students are expected to complete the content set per year at Key Stages 1 and 2, and by Key Stage at Key Stages 3 and 4. At Key Stages 4 and 5 this is alongside the externally accredited courses they access.

At St. Dominic’s, pupils and students make progress at different rates due to their SEN; most having uneven ‘spiky’ profiles of strengths and areas of deficit. Pupils and students also come to St. Dominic’s at different points in their academic careers, some having missed significant periods of schooling. This means that year by year milestones for attainment can be problematic. St. Dominic’s has developed a system to assess pupils’ Learning and Thinking Skills based on Bloom’s Taxonomy ( and Marion Blanks ‘Levels of Questioning’ ( to create universal criteria for each Learning and Thinking Skill. The language of this research has been adapted so that it is child friendly and accessible for all. Universal Learning and Thinking Skills are:

Life without levels

 Fig. 1 Universal Learning and Thinking Skills.  Click on image to enlarge view

The universal criteria for Learning and Thinking Skills (Fig. 1) has informed assessment criteria for all areas of the curriculum and are linked to age related norms. This exciting, cutting edge work means that we are able to assess pupils and students across the Needs Led Curriculum with a shared, uniform assessment criterion and against age related norms i.e. progress in speech and language therapy can be measured against the same criteria as science or English or art, for example.

While this is bespoke to St. Dominic’s, all aspects of the National Curriculum are included for curricular strands and subjects. These form ‘I can’ statements for each subject so that progress can be measured in incremental steps. The additional benefit of this is that pupils and students are not measured by a ‘best fit’ level. They areas they excel in are documented along with the areas where more work is required. 

Fig 2 - I CAN

 Fig. 2 Example grid showing ‘I Can’ statements and levels of mastery.  Click on image to enlarge view.

Fig. 2 demonstrates how progress is logged for the all curricular and needs led outcomes. In this example blue circles indicate where an assessment has been made and grey circles indicate a gap where further work is required. 

Levels of Mastery

Each Learning and Thinking Skill is subdivided into 4 levels of mastery; this is not a new concept: National Curriculum levels were divided into sublevels e.g. 1a, 1b and 1c for example. Levels of mastery are:


Fig 3 - Levels of Mastery

Fig 3. Levels of Mastery

Levels of mastery allow staff to fine grade pupil progress and better assess next steps.


How will I know how much progress my child is making?

Families will continue to receive end of term reports 3 times per year. Pupils will continue to have targets and progress will be reported against Learning and Thinking Skills. Per subject/strand, you will see a percentage of completion along with the Learning and Thinking Skill and level of mastery.

E.g. 46% à Understand 3 (mastering)

You will be able to see the specific skills pupils and students have acquired through reporting against the assessment grid through ‘I can’ statements.

National measures of progress (end of Key Stage 2 testing and end of Key Stage 4 testing) will also continue to be reported. At Key Stage 2, due to national changes to assessment, this will be a numerical score (a score of 100 will represent the average at age 11). At Key Stage 4, this will be dependent on the qualification pupils are working towards.

Pupils and students will be given targets for attainment, and progress will be measured against these targets. Measures of ‘expected’ progress or ‘on track’ for each child and young person will be drawn from the progress pupils make towards their age related expectation e.g. what is the average 11-year-old able to do and is the gap between the child or young person and the average closing?

Some young people attending St. Dominic’s are working at above age related expectation in some subjects. For these pupils and students, stretch targets are set so that the gap between them and their age related counterparts with the goal of increasing the gap between them and their age related counterparts. 


Fig 4 - Functional Independence 

Fig 4. Radial diagram demonstrating progress against age related expectations

Fig. 4 demonstrates the progress pupils and students make term on term. This is used by the transdisciplinary team to assess what additional interventions pupils and students need in order to even out their learning profile and address any gaps in learning.

In each subject the following percentages represent the age related expectation for development represented by the greyed out areas of the radial diagram:

Age 7 – 26%

Age 11 – 43%

Age 14 – 60%

Age 16 – 69%

Age 18 – 100%

We are developing the ability for Parents and pupils to be able to also check progress with more regularity using SAVI, our online tool for computers, tablets and smartphones. Key achievements will be shared with pupils and parents regularly through the E-Portfolio feature and assessments will be accessible half termly through the pupil and parent applications.