How to Assess Progression in French

The national curriculum states that primary language teaching should ensure that pupils “make substantial progress in one language”. In order to measure and evaluate the rate of this progression, effective assessment is key. In addition, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on language learning must not be underestimated; assessment is vital to identify gaps in children’s understanding in order to enhance future progress. Assessment in primary French aims to:

  • identify areas of strength and development for individual children and whole cohorts
  • highlight areas for improvement in teaching and learning
  • ensure that information on progress and attainment can be passed to secondary schools in order to make transition across key stages more effective.

Assessing progress and attainment in French can be challenging for various reasons. Firstly, subject knowledge for teachers can be limited in this area, making it harder for teachers to gauge where pupils are on their learning journey. Secondly, capturing evidence is often more difficult in French than it may be in some other curriculum areas, particularly in the area of spoken language. Finally, it is vital that we don’t discourage young language learners from making mistakes and ensure that they view errors as opportunities for learning. Assessment must therefore balance normalising mistakes with gaining insights into pupils’ attainment. For these reasons, it is important to consider building both formal and informal assessment methods into your French curriculum.

french lessons

There are many methods of informal assessment in primary French. Some ideas that can work in a range of lesson contexts are:

  • Using mini-whiteboards/post-it notes to capture ideas – These can be used to assess children’s ability to remember keywords or to record sentence structures when writing. Building these methods into each lesson allows children to feel comfortable with mistake making and makes sharing ideas normal practice.
  • Talking tins/electronic devices – If your school is lucky enough to have access to high-quality ICT provision, videos and voice recording apps can capture spoken French. If your ICT provision is limited, talking tins may be a more financially viable option. Recording children speaking allows the teacher to assess pronunciation and spoken language without having to listen to every child within a lesson.
  • Games – We all know how much children love playing games and these are a non-threatening method of informal assessment in French. While games within lessons can teach new vocabulary and structures, repeating these games throughout the week, the term or even the whole year can also be an effective way to review learning and assess understanding. In this Kapow Primary Year 3 lesson, Le Morpion (noughts and crosses) is used to assess understanding of age and numbers. This activity would make an excellent starter in other lessons or could be used at the start or end of a school day to reinforce and assess understanding.
  • Making cross-curricular links – Assessing children’s language skills in the context of another curriculum area is a useful way to assess how secure they are in their understanding. This Year 5 lesson uses French action verbs during a PE warm-up lesson. Alternatively, the ‘During the week’ section of each lesson suggests different ways that learning can be built on in other curriculum areas.
  • Use of exercise books – The recording of tasks such as children’s writing and reading in French is an effective way to assess understanding in line with your school’s marking and feedback policy. For lessons that focus on speaking or listening skills, it is important to consider the best approach to record this evidence. You may choose to use one of the methods outlined above or take a different tack. Some schools successfully use ‘big books’ to record photographs and other evidence from lessons that do not involve writing, while others record names or initials of children who have met/exceeded or haven’t met the objectives in a grid or feedback folder. It is important to decide on a whole-school approach to this in line with school policies and discussions with your senior leadership team.

Alongside informal methods of assessment, your French curriculum should include a robust approach to formal assessment. To ensure that children are assessed effectively across key stage 2, your curriculum should be sequenced into small steps to ensure both progression of knowledge and progression of skills, seen in Kapow Primary’s progression document for French. It is vital that all teachers are familiar with the progression steps within your curriculum to support them in planning and assessing progress across the academic year. 

Consideration should also be given to how you use this skills progression to assess pupil understanding at various points of the year. You may wish to create a spreadsheet to record assessment for each child or choose to take another approach in line with your school’s general policy on assessment. Either way, it is important to formally assess children’s progress regularly in order to identify gaps in learning and identify whether they are ready to progress without intervention to the next year’s objectives.

You may wish to use formal assessments at various points within the year to provide further evidence for teacher assessment. Each unit in the Kapow Primary French scheme contains a unit quiz and knowledge catcher that provide resources to assess children’s progression within a unit. These can also be useful at the beginning of a unit to identify pupils who may require further challenge in the areas taught.

As with all areas of Quality First Teaching (QFT), careful consideration should be given to inclusion when assessing primary French. It is essential that assessment methods do not disadvantage children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and adaptations should be made accordingly for these pupils.

Assessment is a vital aspect of language learning, and it is important that class teachers, subject coordinators and senior leaders pay careful attention to the effectiveness of their current approaches. As with many aspects of language teaching, subject knowledge is key to high-quality provision, and the provision of whole-school CPD on assessing primary French must be prioritised. Effective assessment is a key driver in enhancing progress in language learning and enabling pupils to transition to become well-equipped, life-long linguists as they enter secondary school and beyond. 

Emily Birch image
Written by:
Emily Birch

Emily is a primary school teacher with over 7 years of classroom experience. She has taught across all year groups and is driven by a desire to raise the profile of primary languages within UK schools. In 2013, Emily graduated from university with a first-class honours degree in French Studies and went on to complete a Primary PGCE with MFL specialism. Since then, she has worked as MFL subject leader in a number of schools, as well as supporting teachers and senior leaders to improve their MFL provision.