This month Year 6 teachers, up and down the land, will be submitting their Writing Teacher Assessments. The Key Stage 2 Writing assessment process is currently a workload creation vehicle. The outcomes are considered so dubious they are ignored; they pretty much count for nothing. Independent writing means different things in different schools and the teacher assessment process is a tick box, recipe following nightmare. There has to be a better way.
Collectively the SATs and writing portfolios have narrowed the curriculum in primary schools across the country. It’s time for a fundamental rethink. This is me thinking out loud on behalf of Headteachers’ Roundtable as we seek to make the accountability system support children’s education rather than undermine it.
All end of Key Stage 2 Writing pieces should be assessed using comparative judgements. I’m increasingly impressed with and convinced by the system with the proviso that the software required, to scale this to a national level, is thoroughly piloted before full scale implementation. The comparative judgement system, in short, requires a teacher to read a piece of writing from two different pupils and determine which one is the better piece. No need for long lists of criteria and tick boxes with the associated hundreds of judgements; one decision, is writing piece A or B better? This is repeated for multiple pairs of writing until a computer algorithm uses the teachers’ assessments to rank order all the pieces of writing.
Rather than external markers doing this, though that is an option, it could be great professional development for teachers who would essentially see multiple pieces of writing from students across the country. It would be infinitely possible for a teacher to be released for a school day to complete the assessment, consequently keeping workload to a minimum.
Now potentially the more controversial bit. A pupil’s portfolio consists of writing completed using two different processes. One part of the portfolio would be completed under test conditions on a day, set across England, in November, March and May of Year 6. The writing test papers would require pupils to write an essay on an aspect of the wider primary curriculum, for example, Science, History or Geography. As schools would not know which curriculum area the writing test would cover; the only way to “ace the test” would be to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. These essay questions would need to be carefully set. Although pupils with deeper and broader domain knowledge would produce better essays than a similarly competent writer who does not have this knowledge; all pupils must be able to produce a piece of writing. In short, the domain knowledge required to write a good answer mustn’t be too specific or niche.
The other part of the writing portfolio would be produced in the same way as it is now; in class through a process of planning, drafting and rewriting. One or two pieces would be produced and submitted, in an agreed genre, by the November, March and May dates. The alternative is to stick with what we’ve currently got.
#ThursdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week. The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short. It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger. The intention is for it to be read in two/three minutes as you’re busy running around at the end of the week or relaxing on your day off.