The waters have yet to settle, but Clare Hodgson, HfL Assessment Adviser, reflects on what has gone, what is worth salvaging, and what we do know about the new Teacher Assessment Frameworks for writing.

change

It’s hard not to feel mad really. Not mad about the changes to the ITAFs. Mad that we were handed them in the first place. Two years spent playing punctuation bingo. Two years watching the rise of the now ubiquitous semicolon, in Year 6, as children littered their work, in a game of punctuation Top Trumps, with what they considered to be the kingpin of punctuation in an effort to prove their worth (never mind if they had not fully grasped the concept of a sentence). Meanwhile, in Year 2, every child wrote an Enid Blyton-esque  exclamatory sentence at the end of every report. What a tiresome two years we have had! Two years trying to fathom shifts in formality: when all we really need to know is if the devices are controlling the writer, or if the writer is able to control the devices. Two years trying to cling on, through taut fingers, to the vestiges of what makes good writing. It is true that, where teachers focused on the purpose and craft of writing, while still insisting on accuracy, they could wallpaper over the cracks in this tick-list approach. But it is also true that the allocation of children to each standard did not always do justice to those who should have been credited at the expected standard, were it not for some minor issues in their writing, and gave credit to others who could shimmy under the bar with careful editing and checking of the tick-list.

But at least someone listened. The newly released Teacher Assessment Frameworks (for use in the 2017-8 academic year) may not yet be the full solution. However, they are an improvement. So what has changed? What has stayed the same? What has been added? Kirsten Snook, HfL English adviser, has clearly mapped the changes in two useful reference documents here.

We need to be clear however, that the new TA frameworks are not a return to best-fit. The key sentences to note are:

“A pupil’s writing should meet all the highlighted statements within the standard at which they are judged. However, teachers can use their discretion to ensure that, on occasion, a particular weakness does not prevent an accurate judgement being made of a pupil’s attainment overall. A particular weakness could relate to a part or the whole of a statement (or statements), if there is good reason to judge that it would prevent an accurate judgement being made.”

The ‘on occasion’ and ‘good reason’ in the above statement could be tricky territory. However, it is clear that these exceptions to the ‘secure-fit’ or ‘must have all’ approach are just that – occasional exceptions. Moderation will be essential to ensure that there is consistency within and between schools, as iterated in the frameworks:-

“Moderation is a crucial part of teacher assessment. It allows teachers to benchmark their judgements, while helping to ensure that standards are consistent and outcomes are reliable.

Schools should ensure that their teacher assessment judgements are moderated internally and, where possible, with other schools. This will quality-assure their judgements and provide a valuable opportunity for professional development.”

As before, 25% of schools can expect an external statutory moderation visit.

Has any good come out of this period of intense itaf-ication? Well yes – the ‘secure fit’ has meant that schools have had to look closely at the journey that pupils take through the school. Teaching with urgency in all years is a pre-requisite. Find and fix before errors are embedded.

While I welcome the allowance of exceptions in the new TAF, nonetheless I wouldn’t want to lose the focus on spelling. Many of our schools are making real headway through the teaching of spelling rules, morphology (which aids reading comprehension) and etymology. All these also help dyslexic pupils.

A focus on punctuation can also help a focus on the sentence. Where pupils have achieved well using the ITAF, teachers have taught and taught again the ‘concept of a sentence’, looking at sentences, phrases and clauses. This is essential, as even the child who has a firm grasp of the sentence in Y1 can lose this clarity in sentence construction as they move up through the year groups. (I recommend teachers in all years look at the National Strategies document ‘Developing Early Writing’ – p75 – 82: Developing the Concept of a Sentence).

Finally, thanks to my colleague, Martin Galway, HfL English Adviser, I now have a new found respect for the power of ‘selecting verb forms for meaning and effect’. (See “Teaching for Time Lords” and “In Search of GDS: Verb Forms – the key to control“.)  Perhaps it is a shame that this statement has been, not lost, but subsumed within the KS2 writing Greater Depth statements:

The pupil can:

  • write effectively for a range of purposes and audiences, selecting the appropriate form and drawing independently on what they have read as models for their own writing (e.g. literary language, characterisation, structure)
  • distinguish between the language of speech and writing and choose the appropriate register
  • exercise an assured and conscious control over levels of formality, particularly through manipulating grammar and vocabulary to achieve this

Martin and I are jointly delivering what will be an updated course ‘Assessing and Securing Greater Depth in Writing for Y6’ in December for those interested in unpicking these new Greater Depth ‘pupil can’ statements in order to move pupils into this standard.

Given these benefits, perhaps I have been too quick to anger. Perhaps we needed to go through the Interim TA Framework stage so that we could grapple with the demands of the new curriculum and sharpen our grammatical acumen. Conceivably, the initial ITAFs could be viewed as the stage where we smartened up our expectations.

Overall, the new TAF places a greater weight on composition, while reducing the prescriptiveness of the ‘technical’ aspects of writing. This is to be welcomed. Let us remember that writing is not a tick list. The writer must feel that they have something to say. That they have a voice.

As always, the devil will be in the detail and new exemplification due to be released, will, no doubt, help to unpick further the demands of the 2018 TAF. For now, at least, some of the problems with the previous ITAF have been redressed.